Students help local award-winning distillery go green

This quarter, two groups of Ohio State University students are helping a new local microdistillery “go green.”

One group of students is in Victoria Chen’s “Green Building and Sustainable Construction” class, which takes on a special project each quarter. The class is helping Middle West Spirits, in the Short North, determine how much electricity the business could generate by putting solar panels on its roof.

The company, located at 1230 Courtland Ave., sold its first bottle of OYO Vodka in July 2010, made from soft red winter wheat from northern Ohio. Already, the product has met with success: The Beverage Tasting Institute recently rated OYO vodka as “Exceptional” in its 2010 International Review Of Spirits. With 92 points, OYO scored seventh in a category of 140 vodkas from around the globe.

Distillery owners Ryan Lang and Brady Konya decided early on to use electricity, rather than more economical gas, for the steam heat and cold chilling needed to make the spirits.

“Our goal from the beginning was to make sure we were a smart, sustainable urban manufacturing model,” Lang said, which meant they wanted to be able to shift easily to alternate sources of energy as quickly as possible.

Chen said the business uses between 5,000 and 6,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month — equal to 60,000 to 72,000 kwh on annual basis. So far, students have researched the possibility of covering the entire roof of company’s building with a selected type of solar panel. The PV (photovoltaic) system could potentially generate about 50,000-60,000 kwh of electricity annually. The students are also considering incorporating other solar or renewable energy applications that can achieve higher efficiency than a pure PV system, Chen said.

“Some types of solar panels might achieve a higher level of efficiency in converting light into electricity, but they’re not common on the market,” Chen said. Students will offer the company a final analysis by the time the class ends in December.

In addition, other students in a capstone class led by Jay Martin and Gonul Kaletunc are helping Middle West Spirits determine how to generate additional energy from its waste product. Martin and Kaletunc, like Chen, are faculty members in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and all have appointments with the college’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Martin has developed a biodigester that can generate methane from waste, which can then be converted to electricity using a generator. The process may help Middle West Spirits produce even more of its energy needs.

And there’s yet another Ohio State tie: The distillery found the wheat it uses to make OYO vodka through the assistance of U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Edward Souza, who is based at the college’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

Lang said Middle West Spirits looks forward to forming even more partnerships with the college and others at the university.

“We’re just a mile from campus,” he said. “We wish to become an open book for research with the university — one of our core philosophies is to work with the community. Anyone who wants to work on constructive projects with us, we’re completely on board.”

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