E-Days preview: Brewing technology on a small-batch scale

gifford lab

The Gifford Building is home to CSU’s Fermentation Science and Technology program.

Known as the Napa Valley of Beer, Colorado has no shortage of craft breweries. Fort Collins is no exception, and with an established Fermentation Science and Technology program (FST), Colorado State University has joined the trend.

In a brewery-rich environment, partnership opportunities abound, and already a group of senior engineering students is working with FST to design and automate a custom brewery system. Once completed, the brewery will serve two purposes: it will be used as a hands-on learning tool for students in the FST program, and it will also serve as a test and pilot brewery for students and local industry partners.

The engineering students will present their brewery project during E-Days Senior Design Showcase, April 14.

From theory to practice

Designing and building the brewery itself is serving as a practical learning experience for the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering Senior Design team responsible for putting it together. The group, Brewery Design and Automation, is a multidisciplinary team composed of six Senior Design students and two independent study students, each learning about a different side of the project as it progresses.

brewery students
Engineering students Briana Chamberlain, Andy Ross, Dustin Tauxe and Nick Wells have been working on new CSU brewing facilities.

“You learn a lot of theory in class, but that changes when you have to apply that knowledge. We divided up tasks among the team where our strengths were, so I’ve been learning about the mechanical process,” said Julia Tucker, mechanical engineering student.

Laying a foundation

The Brewery Design and Automation team is the first Senior Design group to work on the project, but it won’t be the last. This year’s team is responsible for designing and automating the brewery system, while future teams will have opportunities to work on optimization and efficiency elements. That will include designing and implementing an internal calandria, and adding new capabilities like canning and assembly.

“We’re trying to really take our time to get the brewery design in front of industry professionals to make sure we’re doing it the right way the first time. This project won’t be redesigned – future students will pick up where we left off,” said Andrew Ross, mechanical engineering student.

The 2-hectoliter brewery is a custom system, designed specifically for placement in the Gifford Building, where the FST program is housed. Though small in size, it is being built with all the same capabilities as a commercial brewery. FST students will then learn to brew in a commercial, industrial setting so they will know how to use real-world technologies and systems.

“Our goal is not maximizing the amount of beer, it’s maximizing educational opportunities and application to industry,” said Jeffrey Callaway, associate director of the Fermentation Science and Technology program.

Currently, the engineering students are working on programming the human machine interfaces (HMIs), which are the units that control the system’s functionality.

Opportunities for future students

The brewery is set to be installed sometime during the summer of 2017, so the fermentation science and technology students will be able to begin utilizing the technology for classes in the fall. For all the students involved, the project is a chance for learning ­– and for leaving a legacy.

“’Privilege’ is the best way to put it. I get to work on an interdisciplinary team on a real-world project – it’s an opportunity I could not pass up. It’s something that I can’t wait to come back in five years to show friends and family, and know that our team got to be a part of leaving a mark on the campus in a really cool way,” said Briana Chamberlain, chemical and biological engineering student.

Colorado State University is one of only a few universities in the nation with a fermentation science program, and this brewery system represents a unique partnership with industry that will serve both students and local breweries alike.