Beer Brewing and the Environmental Engineer: “Tapping” into Experiential Learning

Second to water, beer may perhaps be the next most desirable beverage in the lives of countless environmental engineering students. But do they fully understand or appreciate the engineering and scientific principles behind beer making? While considerable effort has been put forth in academia to teach and explain the critical environmental process of fermentation, too many students are limited to examples and explanations contained within a course textbook. The United States Military Academy is committed to providing experiential learning opportunities that reach beyond traditional classroom instruction. Our Environmental Biological Systems Course (EV396) offers an opportunity for environmental engineers to achieve a deeper, more practical understanding and appreciation for biological systems within our environment. As part of the experiential learning process, EV396 requires students to successfully brew beer in a laboratory setting to enhance their understanding of microbial metabolic processes, disinfection principles, and aseptic techniques. This paper aims to highlight and explain the linkage between the complex process of alcoholic fermentation involved in beer brewing to the environmental engineering practice. Indeed, environmental engineers often face challenges where they must design and operate biological systems and apply engineering concepts like those integral to brewing beer, including conventional wastewater management, microbial fuel cells, hazardous waste treatment and remediation, slow sand filtration, and disinfection. As part of this fermentation laboratory experience, students select the style of beer they wish to brew and exercise the engineered techniques required to brew a safe and refreshing product. Additionally, students are required to submit a detailed report demonstrating their ability to identify and evaluate key physiochemical and biochemical engineering processes. Calculations involve fermentation efficacy, specific gravity and yield, theoretical and actual ethanol content, and scaling from bench experiments to commercial production. The laboratory familiarizes students with engineering concepts, including substrates that serve as carbon and energy sources, methods for creating anaerobic reactors, and solid-liquid separation processes. Using the 5-point Likert scale, with 5 indicating greatest achievement, student laboratory performance scores are consistently greater than 3 and many are above 4, indicating effective learning, application, and understanding. Historical assessment and evaluation of how well this experiential learning laboratory supports course objectives and ABET Student Outcomes and Program Criteria are discussed in detail.
Environmental engineering education, engineering education, experiential learning, laboratory experience, beer brewing, fermentation
Murray, Kyle R., Wallen, Benjamin M., Plante, Luke, Quell, Kimberly, Butkus, Michael. "Beer Brewing and the Environmental Engineer: ”Tapping” into Experiential Learning". ASEE, 2019.