Recalled energy drinks to be used for ethanol production

By Kris Bevill | January 07, 2011

After receiving a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages is unsafe, makers of alcoholic energy drinks have pulled their existing products from retail shelves and are in the process of shipping them to proper disposable sites. Many of the drinks, including brands such as Four Loko, Max, Joose, Core High Gravity GH and Moonshot, are now destined to fuel a new type of consumer - vehicles.

MXI Environmental Services LLC operates an ethanol recycling center in Abingdon, Va., and has produced approximately 650,000 gallons of fuel ethanol annually since it began operating in 2003, said Brian Potter, vice president of operations. The center typically acquires its ethanol feedstock from beer wholesalers and breweries but also converts household products such as mouthwash, perfume and sunscreen into fuel-grade ethanol. The center can now add caffeinated energy drinks to its list of feedstocks. It has begun receiving regional shipments of the banned liquids, but Potter said he’s not sure what volume of drinks will arrive at his center. “There’s a lot of product out there, but there’s multiple manufacturers and brands,” he said. “At this point, we really have no idea.” He couldn’t estimate how many gallons of the energy drinks will be required to produce one gallon of fuel-grade ethanol, but said that while beer contains 4 percent alcohol, the energy drinks being received at MXI’s facility are comprised of 12 percent alcohol.

The FDA is also unsure how many alcoholic energy drinks will need to be disposed of. A spokesman for the agency said he had no estimate as to the volume of product produced or needing to be recalled. It is unclear how many facilities might be processing the energy drinks into ethanol. Potter guessed the drinks would be shipped to regional recycling facilities due to freight costs. The FDA said the four companies that received a warning letter regarding the drinks are headquartered in Oregon, Massachusetts, Illinois and California.

Potter said he expects the unwanted drink shipments to continue for some time, but they won’t become a long-term feedstock. “It is just a project,” he said. “Once these products are off the market it’ll pretty much be complete.”