By Rick Cooper
Portland’s Widmer Brothers Brewing has won a national award for pollution prevention, thanks in part to an intern who was an engineering student at Oregon State University at the time.
Alan Haynes, a summer 2017 intern with Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience program, helped the craft brewery win the 2018 Most Valuable Pollution Prevention Project award from the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable.
Haynes graduated from OSU’s School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering in 2018.
“The work kicked off by the pollution prevention internship led to significant, measurable impacts on the brewery and as a result, cleaner wastewater is being discharged,” said Julia Person, Widmer Brothers Brewing’s sustainability manager.
She said that Haynes and the brewery team explored ways to reduce biological oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS), regulated wastewater pollutants. BOD and TSS in breweries result from excess yeast, grain or hops that find their way to the drain. The goal was to find methods that saved on extra-strength sewer charges resulting from the BOD and TSS in the brewery’s wastewater discharge.
“Everyone across the brewery was engaged to help identify areas of waste and improvement opportunities,” Person said. “Alan identified the appropriate technology to implement the solutions and ran the numbers on the return on investment for each.”
“My main focus,” Haynes said, “was to ensure that there was a strong financial argument for implementation, which included researching available technologies and building tools to help model the impact on wastewater charges if they were installed.”
The project resulted in changes in equipment and processes that helped reduce Widmer’s annual biological oxygen demand by 11 percent (10,000 pounds) and total suspended solid waste by 60 percent (6,000 pounds), Person said. The improvements will save the brewery more than $150,000 a year, she said.
The addition of a pump to divert high-TSS liquids from spent grain was the main contributor to the savings. Other innovations resulting from the project include testing at key process points such as tank cleaning, yeast harvesting and kegging, and preventing overflow of a waste yeast capture system. This waste yeast is now hauled to regional dairy farms and used in feed.
Haynes, who is seeking employment in the Portland metro area, said that because he had little background in wastewater processes, it was a challenge to get up to speed on brewery terminology and chemistry while working to identify promising areas to focus on. But the challenge was tempered by Widmer’s “extremely welcoming and friendly” work environment and helpful brewers and engineers, he said. “They made a point of ensuring I was treated as a valuable member of the team and not just another intern.”
The internship program that Haynes took part in is a partnership with Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and launched in 2017, it provides paid 10-week summer internships. Undergraduate and graduate students in Oregon are matched with businesses in the state to help them reduce toxic chemicals, energy, water use and waste.
The first cohort interned at five companies. If those businesses were to implement the interns’ recommendations, they could annually save nearly $900,000, reduce water use by 60 million gallons, and decrease solid or hazardous materials by 8.5 tons, according to DEQ’s website.
Information on how to apply to be an intern next summer will be announced in early 2019.