SABMiller plans to unlock the potential of spent grain from brewing as a viable energy alternative, as one of 15 private companies funding a five-year, multi-million bioenergy project in the UK.

SABMiller said today (27 January) that it would play an active role in the GBP27m public-private project, including offering access to materials, experts and facilities. It declined to comment on the level of funding it is providing.

Launched today, the project marks the biggest ever public investment in bioenergy research in the UK, according to funding body the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Spent grain from brewing will be one of the main waste raw materials investigated.

An SABMiller spokesperson told just-drinks that the brewer hopes the research will put it one step closer to a viable energy alternative for its breweries around the world.

"Every hectolitre of beer produces 18-20kg of spent grain," professor Katherine Smart, the SABMiller-sponsored chair of brewing science at the University of Nottingham, told just-drinks today (27 January).

Smart, who will lead the research into spent grain, as well as other materials, said that spent grain contains a variety of sugars that may be transformed into energy, but that most of these were locked together in the grain husk.

"It is very difficult to break these [sugars] down and that is one of the things we'll be looking at."

She added that, out of a range of materials, spent grain from brewing is one of those with "real potential".

SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay said: "The benefits of biofuels have been somewhat obscured by the negative effects of purpose-grown crops. However, at SABMiller we believe that the development of sustainable biofuel could prove to be one of the most important contributors to solving the energy and climate challenges."

SABMiller sold 239m hectolitres of beer worldwide in its most recent fiscal full-year, ended 31 March 2008.