Shiner prides itself on being the “cleanest little city in Texas." For nearly ten years, students in Professor Lynn Katz’ CE 370K course have been working with the city’s two major industries to ensure that title stays in place. The small city is home to Spoetzl, Texas’ oldest independent brewery, as well as Kaspar Wire Works, a metal plating and wire manufacturer. Both companies have their own onsite wastewater treatment systems and discharge their pre-treated effluent to the local municipal wastewater treatment plant, which are studied and analyzed by undergraduate students each semester.
The course is designed to introduce students to the principles of environmental chemistry and methods for the analysis of environmental samples. They conduct water quality analyses to determine how the water changes as it undergoes different industrial and municipal processes. All of the experiments that they perform in the lab are commonly used in environmental engineering for monitoring ambient air and water conditions, effluent discharges, or the performance of treatment processes.
Both Shiner-based industries have unique histories and have evolved over the past century due to changes in the marketplace and the addition of stricter environmental regulations. Spoetzl Brewery was founded in 1909 and has survived Prohibition and competition from larger breweries by staying small, simple and local. Now, it is the 10th largest brewery in the U.S. and is in the process of implementing a new anaerobic digester, which will drastically reduce its carbon emissions, while also eliminating 85% of the treatable waste components in the brewery’s wastewater.
A few hundred yards down the road, is Kaspar Wire Works, a family business, which has been fabricating a wide range of stock and custom wire, sheet metal and tubing products since 1898. Kaspar has developed a patented electrocoagulation wastewater treatment process, which is sold by a subsidiary, Kalseco. Electrocoagulation wastewater treatment systems treat metal-bearing streams (copper, lead, zinc, nickel, chromium, arsenic etc), suspended solids and emulsions.
The undergraduate students work with these companies to collect and analyze data throughout the semester. They also study brewery and metal plating processes and tour each facility. The students are encouraged to gather as much information as possible about the manufacturing processes at each location and their respective wastewater treatment systems. Doug Kaspar, co-owner of Kaspar Wire Works, and Peter Takacs, QA Manager at Spoetzl Brewery, have been instrumental in assisting students by explaining the history of each company, their water treatment processes, and problems they have encountered.
Back on campus, graduate students serve as “senior project managers” for the undergraduate teams by guiding the undergrads through a series of labs that focus on running different fundamental water chemistry tests. These tests are based on samples from Shiner tap water, brewery effluent, untreated plating effluent, treated plating effluent, and the influent wastewater to the Shiner municipal wastewater treatment plant. The graduate students also review the lab reports written by the undergrad teams. This cooperative learning environment mimics the protocol used in consulting firms where more experienced engineers review the work of junior engineers.
During the final lab of the semester, the students are given the opportunity to re-test any suspect data. “This is a valuable time for students. It teaches them not to ignore bad samples or possible errors,” says Katz. “It shows maturity on their part when they take the time to redo samples that do not meet quality assurance standards.” In their final report, the students compare the water quality to current standards and offer suggestions for improvement at each plant.
“Environmental sampling was an extremely valuable class to both my college and professional career,” says Karen Osegueda, who received her BS in civil engineering in May. “This class helped me learn how to conduct experiments, accurately interpret information, and relate it to practical situations, while having fun along the way. I can honestly say this was one of the most rewarding courses I took at UT.”
The overall outcome has been positive for all parties involved. Many of the undergraduate students have found summer jobs, based on the practical testing experience they gained in CE 370K. Graduate students develop leadership experience, which prepares them for careers in academia and practice. And both companies experience goodwill knowing they have helped students learn more about their future careers.
“More courses should be designed like this course,” says graduate student Ellison Carter. “Dr. Katz has worked very hard to maintain a good relationship with the two primary industries in Shiner, TX so that students can learn about and conduct water quality analyses with real industrial output. This sort of real-world, hands-on approach to learning is engaging. I really enjoy being among the team of graduate students who TA for the course. The preparation leading up to running a lab with the students and helping the students to think critically about what they have learned is challenging.”