Rowan Engineering Students Study Turning Byproducts from Microbreweries and Wineries Into Fuel

Rowan students studying turning beer and wine making byproducts into fuel. Credit: Rowan University.

GLASSBORO, N.J. – Civil and environmental engineering students are working with Rowan alumna and assistant professor Dr. Sarah Bauer to study the waste products created during the fermentation and brewing processes and the possibility of converting them into liquid biocrude, a renewable fuel source.

Beginning last fall, students identified local wineries and microbreweries from which to collect and analyze waste including Auburn Road Vineyard in Pilesgrove, Death of the Fox Brewing Co. in Clarksboro and Kelly Green Brewing Co. in Pitman.

“Our goal was to first identify the type of materials that are used in the fermentation and brewing processes, as well as the quality and quantity of waste materials produced as a byproduct of these processes,” Bauer said in a press release from the University. 

From there the students measured the quantity and analyzed the makeup of the spent grains, hops and lees, byproducts of the beer- and wine-making. Through hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), students processed the waste products at a high temperature and pressure in a reactor to produce a liquid biocrude. Bauer previously used this technology in her doctoral research completed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, according to the press release.

Bauer is encouraged with the results.

“This waste-to-energy system has the potential to produce a renewable and environmentally friendly source of energy that uses waste that would otherwise be seen as an environmental or economic liability as a feedstock,” Bauer explained. “This is the bigger picture of our research.”

“There have been studies of millions of other things, but no one’s really focused on the things we’re doing,” Rowan student Remo DiSalvatore, a graduate of Washington Township High School, said. “It’s exciting because we’re cutting edge. We’re the first people to try to do this.”

This spring, students presented their research at the Engineering Sustainability 2019 Conference sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation and the Steinbrenner Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The students’ thesis outlining their research from the fall 2018 semester also won the Best Undergraduate Student Paper Award as part of the 2019 Delaware Valley Engineers Week.

“It’s nice that the work that we’re doing is actually seen by other people and recognized as something that could potentially be really helpful for our future,” Rowan student Gina Venuto-Gabriella of Blackwood said.

The hands-on nature of Bauer’s clinic allows students to walk away with great exposure to industry research practices.

“Before junior year, not many people have internships, so this is our first opportunity to do something that could really count,” Venuto-Gabriella, Highland Regional High School graduate, said. “Choosing a project that is important to the world is really special.”

Bauer and her students will continue their research during the 2019-2020 school year, expanding their scope to identify and analyze waste created by local farms and wastewater treatment plants for a potential source of liquid biocrude, again focusing on major industries within the South Jersey economy.