Tag Archives: beer

Beer drinkers weep into their pints on hearing news of electronic tongue

First, it was the wine drinkers (my July 28, 2011 posting titled: Bio-inspired electronic tongue replaces sommelier? about research performed by Spanish researches at the UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) now, these researchers have turned their attention to beer.  From a Jan. 30, 2014 news release on EurekAlert,

Beer is the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic drink in the world. Now, scientists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona have led a study which analysed several brands of beer by applying a new concept in analysis systems, known as an electronic tongue, the idea for which is based on the human sense of taste.

As Manel del Valle, the main author of the study, explains to SINC [Spain’s state public agency specialising in science, technology and innovation information]: “The concept of the electronic tongue consists in using a generic array of sensors, in other words with generic response to the various chemical compounds involved, which generate a varied spectrum of information with advanced tools for processing, pattern recognition and even artificial neural networks.”

In this case, the array of sensors was formed of 21 ion-selective electrodes, including some with response to cations (ammonium, sodium), others with response to anions (nitrate, chloride, etc.), as well as electrodes with generic (unspecified) response to the varieties considered.

The authors recorded the multidimensional response generated by the array of sensors and how this was influenced by the type of beer considered. An initial analysis enabled them to change coordinates to view the grouping better, although it was not effective for classifying the beers.

“Using more powerful tools – supervised learning – and linear discriminant analysis did enable us to distinguish between the main categories of beer we studied: Schwarzbier, lager, double malt, Pilsen, Alsatian and low-alcohol,” Del Valle continues, “and with a success rate of 81.9%.”

It seems the electronic tongue does have one drawback,

Furthermore, it is worth noting that varieties of beers that the tongue is not trained to recognise, such as beer/soft drink mixes or foreign makes, were not identified (discrepant samples), which, according to the experts, validates the system as it does not recognise brands for which it was not trained.

Future plans, according to the news release, include,

In view of the ordering of the varieties, which followed their declared alcohol content, the scientists estimated this content with a numerical model developed with an artificial neural network.

“This application could be considered a sensor by software, as the ethanol present does not respond directly to the sensors used, which only respond to the ions present in the solution,” outlines the researcher.

The study concludes that these tools could one day give robots a sense of taste, and even supplant panels of tasters in the food industry to improve the quality and reliability of products for consumption.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Beer classification by means of a potentiometric electronic tongue by Xavier Cetó, Manuel Gutiérrez-Capitán, Daniel Calvo , and Manel del Vall. Food Chemistry Volume 141, Issue 3, 1 December 2013, Pages 2533–2540 DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.05.091

I’d imagine that anyone who has dreams of becoming a beer taster might want to consider some future alternatives. As for folks like Canadian Kevin Brauch, “host of The Thirsty Traveler [on the Cooking Channel], …  about the world’s greatest beer, wine and cocktails,” he will no doubt claim that a robot is not likely to express like/dislikes or more nuanced opinions, should he become aware of his competitor. Besides, Brauch does have the cocktail to rely on; there’s no word of cocktails being test on an electronic tongue, not yer.

Historically, Canada has been a beer drinkers nation. According to data collected in 2010, we rank fifth in the world (following the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and Ireland, in that order)  found in the Wikipedia essay: List of countries by beer consumption per capita.  For anyone who’s curious about Canadian beer drinkers’ perspectives, I found this blog, The Great Canadian Beer Snob (as of 2012 the blog owner, Matt Williams lived in Victoria, BC), which I suspect was a name chosen with tongue-in-cheek.

Canada’s barley crop needs a little help to adapt to climate change

“Building better barley” is the title for a Dec. 12, 2012 news release from the University of Alberta (by Bev Betkowski) on EurekAlert. They might have wanted to add the phrase “in the face of climate change” but that ruins the alliteration. From the news release,

As one of the top 10 barley producers in the world, Canada faces a problem of adapting to the ‘new normal’ of a warmer, drier climate.

The 2012 growing season was considered an average year on the Canadian Prairies, “but we still had a summer water deficit, and it is that type of condition we are trying to work with,” said Scott Chang, a professor of soil science in the University of Alberta’s Department of Renewable Resources in Edmonton, Canada.

The Dec. 5, 2012 article (which originated the news release) by Betkowski for the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta provides more detail about the why and the how,

Chang began teaming up with fellow crop scientist Anthony Anyia of Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures in 2006, following a severe drought in 2002 that dropped average crop yield in Alberta by about half. They are exploring the genetic makeup of barley and how the grain crop—a Canadian staple used for beer malt and animal feed—can be made more efficient in its water use and more productive. One of their latest studies, published in the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics, explores how to increase yield in barley crops while using less water.

…The latest study was led by lead author Jing Chen, a former PhD student in Chang and Anyia’s lab. The group planted and harvested two common types of barley plants in test plots around Alberta, then analyzed the plants for genetic traits and other factors such as height, days to maturity and yield.

By studying the carbon isotope compositions of barley plants and their relationship with water-use efficiency, the researchers developed tools that plant breeders can use to improve selection efficiency for more water-efficient varieties. The latest findings stem from an ongoing collaboration that is ultimately aimed at bringing farmers a more stable breed of the plant that has less reliance on water and is less vulnerable to climate change.

Coincidentally (or not), the Canadian federal government in the person of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, within a week of the story and news release by Betkowski, congratulates itself for previous funding and new programs in two separate news releases.

The Harper Government Supports Canadian Barley Industry news release of Dec. 7, 2012 had this comment for the Alberta Barley Commission’s annual general meeting in Banff,

“As the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act approaches, western Canadian grain farmers are already enjoying the economic potential of an open market,” said Minister Ritz. “I would like to thank the Alberta Barley Commission for its long-standing leadership in support of marketing freedom, innovation and a strong future for barley producers.”

Canadian barley, known around the world for its high quality and superior characteristics, generated over $270 million in exports last year—a figure expected to continue to grow with the new marketing freedom options. The Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, which received Royal Assent on December 15, 2011, allows anyone to buy and sell wheat and barley. By unleashing the sector’s economic potential and entrepreneurial energy, the open grain market continues to usher in a new era of innovation and growth for Western Canada’s grain industry, helping attract investment, encourage innovation, create value-added jobs and build a stronger economy.

Additionally, the Harper government recently announced an AgriMarketing investment of more than $525,000 to enable the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, the Malting Industry Association of Canada, and the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute to increase their competitiveness in new and existing markets through innovative marketing and communications and through the development of a Canadian Malt Barley Brand. [emphasis mine] Product testing and evaluations will also be done on new malting barley varieties, the current year’s harvest and cargo shipments to highlight the attributes of the current Canadian crop for international customers.

The Harper government’s long-term strategy to strengthen and modernize the barley industry includes renewing the mandate of the Crop Logistics Working Group, to improve the performance of the supply chain for barley and all crops, and to ensure that the agricultural sector can reap the rewards of a dynamic and growing global marketplace.

On the same day in Calgary, the Harper Government Announces Federal Growing Forward 2 Programs news release of Dec. 7, 2012 proclaims new programs and, presumably, there will be additional funding at some point,

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz today unveiled three new federal programs under Canada’s new agricultural policy framework Growing Forward 2 that will streamline investments in the agriculture and agri-food sector. The new programs will focus on strategic initiatives in innovation, competitiveness and market development to further strengthen the sector’s capacity to grow and prosper.

“These new Growing Forward 2 programs will build on the success of existing programs to provide more streamlined support to the sector to help it remain a world leader in agricultural innovation and trade,” said Minister Ritz. “We are making sure farmers and the entire sector have the tools and resources they need to stay ahead of the ever-changing demands of consumers.”

Three new federal programs will come into effect on April 1, 2013:

  • The AgriInnovation Program will focus on investments to expand the sector’s capacity to develop and commercialize new products and technologies.
  • The AgriMarketing Program will help industry improve its capacity to adopt assurance systems, such as food safety and traceability, to meet consumer and market demands. It will also support industry in maintaining and seizing new markets for their products through branding and promotional activities.
  • The AgriCompetitiveness Program will target investments to help strengthen the agriculture and agri-food industry’s capacity to adapt and be profitable in domestic and global markets.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is proactively providing information to farmers and the industry so that they are familiar with the kind of support that will be available and so they may plan their applications well in advance. The AgriInnovation Program will begin accepting applications immediately, while AgriMarketing and AgriCompetitiveness will begin accepting applications early in the new year.

Growing Forward 2 represents a $3 billion investment over five years in strategic initiatives for innovation, competitiveness and market development, in addition to a full and comprehensive suite of business risk management programs that will continue to help farmers withstand severe market volatility and disasters. Investments in the three priority areas are critical to facilitating the sector’s expansion and leveraging of provincial-territorial and industry investments to increase productivity, growth and jobs.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for those who do not know, is from the province of Alberta.

This is an interesting example, whether the announcements are coincidental or not, of the relationship between research taking place in the universities, government and its programmes, and the international marketplace. For those interested in Chang’s research, here’s the citation for the paper from his webpage,

Chen, J., Chang, S.X. and Anya, A.O. 2012. Quantitative trait loci for water-use efficiency in barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) measured by carbon isotope discrimination under rain-fed conditions on the Canadian Prairies, Theoretical and Applied Genetics 125: 71–90.

Springer, publisher for the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics, is offering a free preview during the month of December 2012 so you can view the article or any other one in the journal ’til Dec. 31, 2012.

Better beer in plastic bottles

This innovation in beer bottling was developed in Ireland and I’m pretty sure the Irish have themselves braced for the humourous comments sure to follow given the legends about the Irish and beer.

Here’s more about the nanotechnology-enabled plastic beer bottles from the Sept. 18, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists at CRANN [Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices], the Science Foundation Ireland-funded nanoscience institute based at Trinity College Dublin, have partnered with world-leading brewing company SABMiller on a project to increase the shelf life of bottled beer in plastic bottles. The new deal will see SABMiller invest in the project over a two year period.

Professor Jonathan Coleman and his team in CRANN are using nanoscience research methods to develop a new material that will prolong the shelf-life of beer in plastic bottles. Current plastic bottles have a relatively short shelf life, as both oxygen and carbon dioxide can permeate the plastic and diminish the flavour.

The new material, when added to plastic bottles will make them extremely impervious, meaning that oxygen cannot enter and that the carbon dioxide cannot escape, thus preserving the taste and ‘fizz’.

The Sept. 18, 2012 CRANN news release does not include many more details about the technology,

The team will exfoliate nano-sheets of boron nitride, each with a thickness of approximately 50,000 times thinner than one human hair. These nano-sheets will be mixed with plastic, which will result in a material that is extremely impervious to gas molecules. The molecules will be unable to diffuse through the material and shelf life will be increased.

As well as increasing the shelf life of the beer itself, less material is required in production, reducing cost and environmental impact.

If you are lucky enough to have a subscription or have some other access to Science magazine, you can read more about Coleman’s and his team’s work on boron nitride and thin films. Here’s the citation and abstract for the article,

Two-Dimensional Nanosheets Produced by Liquid Exfoliation of Layered Materials by Jonathan N. Coleman, Mustafa Lotya, Arlene O’Neill, Shane D. Bergin, Paul J. King, Umar Khan,  Karen Young, Alexandre Gaucher, Sukanta De, Ronan J. Smith, Igor V. Shvets, Sunil K. Arora, George Stanton, Hye-Young Kim, Kangho Lee, Gyu Tae Kim, Georg S. Duesberg, Toby Hallam, John J. Boland, Jing Jing Wang, John F. Donegan, Jaime C. Grunlan, Gregory Moriarty, Aleksey Shmeliov, Rebecca J. Nicholls, James M. Perkins, Eleanor M. Grieveson, Koenraad Theuwissen, David W. McComb, Peter D. Nellist, and Valeria Nicolosi in Science 4 February 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6017 pp. 568-571 DOI: 10.1126/science.1194975

If they could be easily exfoliated, layered materials would become a diverse source of two-dimensional crystals whose properties would be useful in applications ranging from electronics to energy storage. We show that layered compounds such as MoS2, WS2, MoSe2, MoTe2, TaSe2, NbSe2, NiTe2, BN, and Bi2Te3 can be efficiently dispersed in common solvents and can be deposited as individual flakes or formed into films. Electron microscopy strongly suggests that the material is exfoliated into individual layers. By blending this material with suspensions of other nanomaterials or polymer solutions, we can prepare hybrid dispersions or composites, which can be cast into films. We show that WS2 and MoS2 effectively reinforce polymers, whereas WS2/carbon nanotube hybrid films have high conductivity, leading to promising thermoelectric properties.

This announcement comes during Ireland’s Nanoweek 2012 (Sept. 14 – 21, 2012) which I mentioned along with other nano-themed events currently taking place in Ireland in my Sept. 14, 2012 posting.