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UC Davis Launches Wine Processing Center

Former NASA engineer directs sustainable wine and food research program

by Ted Rieger
Alternative text
University of California, Davis Sustainable Wine & Food Processing Center executive director Jill Brigham stands in the Teaching and Research Winery near a control system panel for the winery’s new clean-in-place fermentation tanks.
Davis, Calif.—Former NASA engineer Jill Brigham’s new mission is to launch the Sustainable Wine & Food Processing Center at the University of California, Davis.

The center is a joint project between the university’s Department of Viticulture & Enology and the Department of Food Science and Technology. Brigham became the first executive director of the new center in March.

She said the purpose of the center is to do research and collaborative work with the private sector to test technologies and develop methods to reduce the consumption of energy and water, and to reduce waste and develop uses for the waste streams that processing facilities create. The center is also expected to provide demonstration and outreach activities for the wine and food industries to apply best practices to processing operations.

Perfecting sustainable practices
Much of the initial work at the center will be focused on sustainable systems and technologies for the university’s teaching and research winery and the adjacent Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building. However, Brigham said the center would also be involved in developing sustainable technologies for the brewery and dairy processing facilities that also occupy the Robert Mondavi Institute complex. The center’s work with sustainable systems and technologies will be applied in the future to fruit and vegetable processing and packaging operations that use a significant amount of water and energy.

One of the written goals of the center states: “Develop a research portfolio that addresses a broad variety of industry and government needs in the areas of: water and energy minimization, rainwater recovery and treatment, alternative energy generation, and byproduct recovery, that are consistent with current and future industry processing standards.”

Brigham worked for 26 years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She holds an MS degree in computer and systems engineering from the University of Houston, and a BS degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. As a systems engineer, Brigham worked on a wide range of projects at NASA and specialized in integrating hardware and software technology for the operational and control systems of aircraft and spacecraft systems.

She noted that one of NASA’s major projects in recent years has been the International Space Station (ISS), in operation since 2000 with continuous human occupation. It serves as an example of an environmentally controlled facility that generates all its own energy, and filters and reuses all its water for operations and human consumption. “The space station uses a solar array to create electricity, and it reprocesses and reuses all water and wastewater in a completely closed-loop system, or as one ISS astronaut said, ‘Yesterday’s coffee is today’s coffee.’” Brigham said, “Although I didn’t work on ISS projects directly, I’m very familiar with the environmental control systems on that facility and how we can apply similar technologies and systems here for wine and food industry facilities.”

One of Brigham’s first projects has involved working with the university’s winery manager Chik Brenneman to integrate and test the control and data monitoring systems on the winery’s 14 new 2000-liter clean-in-place (CIP) fermentation tanks to have them operational for the 2014 harvest. The tank control system can automatically track fermentations with sensors that monitor temperatures and Brix levels, and the tanks are capable of automatic pumpovers.

Water Management a high priority
After harvest, a priority project will be implementing a fully functional rainwater capture system, with reverse osmosis (RO) filtration of collected water that will supply the winery’s cleaning and operational needs. “Rainwater is such a valuable asset, it’s usually more pure, with no hazardous materials or salinity as with some water sources, and it can take much less energy to filter as compared with tap water systems,” Brigham said.

The winery’s CIP capabilities, expected to be operational for the 2015 harvest will be a significant water saving technology. This will be tied into another priority project, using RO nanofiltration technology to filter and recycle all winery wastewater. The winery will use a “cleaner” potassium-based cleaning solution that is expected to be 90% recoverable and reusable after filtration. “By filtering and recycling wastewater and cleaning solution we will end up with very little waste retentate, and that amount can be sent to the campus biodigester that produces energy from organic waste,” Brigham said. “Our system will result in no issues related to biological oxygen demand (BOD), nitrates, phosphates, or salinity problems, which most wineries must consider in wastewater management.”

Brigham highlighted the importance of these water saving technologies, given the current interest in water, California’s drought, and concerns about groundwater supply. She referenced the winery production statistic that it takes an average of six gallons of water to produce one gallon of wine. “That becomes very important when talking about the millions of gallons of wine produced in California each year,” Brigham said. “That can add up to a huge amount of water that we don’t need to be wasting.”

Brigham is currently the center’s only employee. She will work closely with V&E Department professor Dr. Roger Boulton and department chair Dr. David Block who have led the planning and design process for the sustainable technologies for the winery and Jackson Sustainable Building. A new website describing the center and its projects will go online in August. Another task is to form an advisory board with industry representat ives to assist with funding for projects and research.

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