Dr. Runnebaum’s lab works on developing processes for more sustainable use of our natural resources, including those important in winemaking. These processes often involve the development and use of solid materials that can be regenerated and reused and can both replace the use of chemicals and reduce solid waste produced. For example, researchers in the lab have begun studying alternatives to bentonite for protein fining by using solid materials as adsorbents in a continuously operated column. They also study the use of various solid materials as catalysts to more resourcefully use naturally occurring raw materials by improving efficiency to form more desired and profitable fuel and chemical products.
They’ve successfully demonstrated the ability to regenerate and reuse solid materials for removing proteins from a model wine. These materials have similar chemical and physical interactions with wine as bentonite, which has been in use to fine protein out of wine for decades. The process operates in a packed column, which minimizes wine loss and eliminates the use of bentonite and subsequent fining agents such as diatomaceous earth. In addition, these solid materials have an opportunity to eliminate leaching of the undesired metals from the bentonite treatment.
The next step for the Runnebaum lab is to use these same tools to design solid materials, which can be regenerated and reused, to remove other undesired compounds from wine (possibly those compounds formed during unfavorable growing conditions from suboptimal weather, fires, or other natural events).