CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — A custom-made barley malter recently built by engineering students will expand Oregon State University's already hefty contribution to research in fermentation science and barley breeding.
Pat Hayes, a professor and barley breeder in the school of integrated plant, soil and insect science, asked the school of mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering to pitch the malter project to incoming senior design students last fall.
The proposition paid off. With the help of graduate student Josef Hortnagl, the team of mechanical engineering seniors Aaron Mason, Tyler Froemming, Eric Sunderland and Curtis Barnard designed and constructed the 1,000-pound malter during the fall and winter terms.
John Parmigiani, a research professor in the school of mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering, said the malter — like about one-third of the school's 40 senior design projects each year — came as a request from researchers who wanted a better malting system.
Before the new malter, the malting process of soaking, germinating and roasting the barley was accomplished using food processing equipment in the food science and technology department's pilot plant. It wasn't reasonable for the department to buy a commercial-size malter, which can produce quantities sufficient for up to 175,000 gallons of beer.
The new malter can produce a manageable amount for 200 gallons of beer, which enables Hayes and his team to easily test the malting quality on experimental varieties of barley, such as the types grown in the greenhouses next door to the pilot plant.
Because OSU features one of only two fermentation science programs in the nation that focuses on beer brewing, students and on-campus researchers can be a part of the brewing process from the very beginning, starting with the malted barley.
The university also can enter into more research contracts with companies interested in learning new malting techniques, which is beneficial for both small breweries and industry giant Anheuser-Busch, said Tom Shellhammer, professor of fermentation science in the food science and technology department.
The project received a boost from industry. Canby-based manufacturing company JVNW, Inc., donated the malter's tank; Vancouver-based Great Western Malting Company donated barley and representatives met with the group early in the process.
The design team will test the machine's malter abilities throughout spring term, but the malter is mechanically sound after the team spent nearly 400 hours manufacturing and testing it during winter term.
"There were weeks where we were (at the pilot plant) until midnight or later every night," Mason said.
The project will be featured along with the other senior design projects completed this year throughout the College of Engineering at the annual Engineering Fair in May at the Kelley Engineering Center.
Given its size and heft, the malter will appear at the fair via poster board photos.
"Maybe we can convince someone to transport it over with a forklift," Mason joked.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.