Sustainable Solutions

As the craft brewery industry in North Carolina continues to grow, so does the amount of brewery wastewater, which is challenging for wastewater treatment plants to process.

That’s why a group of students in NC State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering spent the past academic year prototyping a solution for local breweries to cost-effectively treat this wastewater on-site.

As part of the department’s senior design course, four students designed and built an anaerobic bioreactor to treat wastewater while also creating methane, which can be recovered for use as an energy source.

“Regulations [for water treatment] are increasing, so local breweries really are considering how to better manage wastewater,” said Sarah Turner, one of the students who worked on the project.

Other senior design teams tackled sustainability-related challenges as well. A team of students created a model that determines the technical and economic feasibility of transitioning farms from traditional grid power to solar power. Another team helped restore a river by facilitating travel of small fish.

Though the project focus varies, the ultimate goal of each senior design experience is the same: to learn by doing. Students research the assigned problem, develop solutions and test their ideas.

One team worked on a process that would boost efficiency of the biomass industry, which converts biological material such as harvested sorghum and switchgrass into renewable energy. The team’s goal was to maximize the amount of biomass material transported to biorefineries, as well as how long the material could be stored before use.

“We’re helping ensure a dependable, consistent source of biomass feedstocks,” said Carrie Sanford, a student who worked on the project. “Sustainable energy sources are needed to reduce reliance on petroleum.”

Throughout the two-semester course, the team experimented with existing machinery, designed a prototype, tested for microbial growth and measured chemical properties of the biomass materials.

Regardless of focus, each senior design project was an ideal practical experience to culminate an NC State engineering education.

“We got a lot of hands-on experience,” said student Hannah Monroe.