CSB biochemistry major helps Minnesota brewery with sustainability practices

Abby Kaluza is not a beer aficionado. In fact, she isn’t even old enough to drink beer. But that hasn’t stopped her from helping one of Minnesota’s largest breweries from becoming more environmentally friendly.

Kaluza, a biochemistry major at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, has been working as an intern at the August Schell Brewing Co. in New Ulm this summer.

She has been using what she learned in chemistry and biology classes working in the brewery’s lab testing acidity levels, color, alcohol content and bitterness units. But she also wanted to help the brewery with sustainability, she said.

One of her professors at St. Ben’s was passionate about environmental chemistry and inspired her to try to recycle one of the toxic chemicals used in the brewing process.

Isooctane, also known as 2,2,4-Trimethylpentane, is a volatile organic compound used in testing International Bitterness Units, which measures the bitterness of a beer.

“It’s a super expensive product to buy and … it can’t be dumped down the drain and just disposed of like normal chemicals,” Kaluza said. “We have to actually pay to dispose of it, which can cost a lot, and it’s really just not good for the environment at all.”

She did some research and connected with a brewery in Pennsylvania that has been working to recycle isooctane and trying to get other breweries on board to make it a common practice.

“I think it’s important to reuse what you can,” she said. “We initiated this and it’s been working. We’ve actually found that what we’re recycling is more secure than what we were originally buying.”

Kaluza says her work is consistent with Pope Francis’s call to care for our creation and protect our environment.

“I feel as though we have a responsibility to each other and our planet to recycle, protect what has been given to us and make efforts that will make our Earth healthy for generations to come,” she said.

Kaluza, who is from Cold Spring and attended St. Boniface School there, says she’s been lucky to have a lot of freedom in the lab, and she’s excited about some of the other ways she has been able to help make practices a little greener and the lab more efficient.

College of St. Benedict biochemistry major Abby Kaluza works in the lab at Schell’s brewery in New Ulm. (Photo submitted)

“It’s become so much more than just a summer job,” said Kaluza, who will be a junior this fall. “I’m learning so much. I’m applying chemistry and biology knowledge that I had coming into the internship, but then I’ve also learned so much more about the microbiology field.”

She almost didn’t apply for the internship because she already had planned to work as a head counselor at a summer camp in Nisswa, Minnesota. The camp was canceled in April due to COVID-19, which left her wondering what she could do for the summer.

Kaluza found SciTech, a program that connects STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) college students to paid internships that provide rewarding hands-on experience in small Minnesota businesses. She was nervous because there were a lot of applicants but was offered the job and jumped at the opportunity.

“I was really nervous because … the brewing industry is a pretty male-dominated field,” she said. “But I was pleasantly surprised that everyone [at Schell’s] is super friendly and so nice. The guys in the lab are absolutely fantastic. It’s kind of like working with a ton of brothers.”

Kaluza wants to encourage other women to pursue opportunities in STEM fields without worrying about the gender gap.

“That was something I was super hesitant about and I really wish it wasn’t something that had crossed my mind,” she said. “I’m really glad it didn’t prevent me from applying.”

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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