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Electric Brewing in the AABG

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1 Electric Brewing in the AABG
April 2014 by Aron Butler, Sam Firke, and others

2 Electric Heating vs. Automation
“Electric brewing” typically refers to the heat source– elements designed for electric water heaters (basically a big resistor inside a SS sheath). An electric element requires some level of electronic control, and this can easily escalate to automating other processes (flow, fill, etc.). Motivated by the “geek factor” versus adding a practical tool to save time and effort on particular steps? Mention BrewTroller as an example of crazy levels of automation

3 Implementation Manual control. Has a basic switch (or timer) that applies full power to heater. Folks use bucket heaters like this. Thermostat control. User sets temperature, controller turns heater fully on when temp is below setpoint, then off when above. A Ranco controller would work this way. ? Power control. User sets the percent power output of the element (pulse-width modulation or phase control). A PID controller combines thermostat and power control functions.

4 Required Infrastructure & Investment
With 120V and ~$ bucket heater with heavy-duty timer can provide hot strike and sparge water if turned on several hrs before dough-in. With 120V and ~$500… RIMS system with element, temp controller, pump, and fittings can provide mash temp control (as well as hot strike water). With 240V and $ full electric mash and boil. Best value for your brewing style? Each brewday will be faster and cheaper, but you’ll likely not make back the time and money spent on the build so that shouldn’t be your only reason. You are largely paying for automation + control; compare Kal Wallner’s system to Sabco’s BrewMagic.

5 Example: Brian Lagoe’s e-RIMS
10 gal BIAB with bucket heater for strike, 120V RIMS heater with Auber PID for mash, and propane burner for boil

6 Example: Aron Butler’s e-BIAB
One-vessel BIAB keggle system, single 240V element for boil and mash (RIMS-like), custom microprocessor controller

7 Example: Mark Z’s e-HERMS
15 gal 3-vessel system with 240V electric boil and HLT, mash heating via HERMS, commercial PID & timer controls (similar to Kal Wallner’s setup)

8 Example: Sam Firke’s e-HERMS
20 gal 3-vessel system with 240V electric boil and HLT, mash heating via HERMS, commercial PID & timer controls (similar to Kal Wallner’s setup)

9 Example: Matt Becker’s 50kW RIMS
Pilot-scale system with 120 gal 55 gal and 55 gal Controls include industrial PLCs and SCRs.

10 Will I Scorch My Wort? Depends on power (or watt) density of heater, meaning how much power must be transferred to the wort per area (square inch). Typical element power density ranges from 50 W/in2 (ultra-low) to 150+ (high). Ultra-low density elements present similar (or lower) temperatures to the wort as flame-fired kettles, and will not scorch as long as they remain immersed. After first paragraph, can talk about physics of heat transfer a bit, where rate of heat flow is proportional to the temperature difference between the element and wort. Higher watt density requires (i.e., creates) higher element temperature in order to move more heat per square inch. At some point, the organics in the wort begin to carmelize, burn, etc.

11 Is Electric Heat More Expensive?
No… for two big reasons: All the electrical heat goes into the water, versus only about ⅓ for a typical propane burner. Retail propane is very expensive energy (about 5x more per BTU than natural gas). Rough numbers: A typical 5-gal brew session uses ~4 lbs propane, or about $5 worth. Electric equivalent uses about 8 kWh, or about $1 worth. (But per-batch savings are offset by higher equipment costs.) Energy cost payback period for a full electric conversion would be on the order of a couple hundred batches.

12 That GFCI Seems Expensive…
It’s a clever device that can save your life! From Siemens website (GFCI vendor)

13 Summary (vs. Propane Burners)
Pros: Precise mash control with RIMS/HERMS for greater repeatability Brew indoors with full electric Many options for automation Won’t run out of gas Lower energy cost Educational process Quieter Cons: Equipment expense Complexity Time to build Nonzero risk of electrocution (use GFCI!) System is less portable May require mods to your home’s wiring (grounds, 240V/30A outlet) or infrastructure (exhaust, sink) As a balancing point to the “risk of electrocution” item, can remind folks of the nonzero risk of CO poisoning and fire with propane systems.

14 Lessons Learned Always use grounded cords and a GFCI upstream of brewery Don’t fire elements dry (or with bubbles in RIMS tubes) Use proper wire gauge, make tight connections Decide what you really want/need (brewday experience, features) before starting the build

15 Resources Inspiration: (Kal Wallner)
Aron’s build: Parts: Advice: Aron Butler, Sam Firke, Mark Zadvinskis, Brian Lagoe, Matt Becker, Mike O’Brien, others If you take the plunge, there are club members who will probably lend you tools or give you spare odd parts (especially in exchange for beer).

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