Electric Brewing in the AABG April 2014 by Aron Butler, Sam Firke, and others
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?
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.
Required Infrastructure & Investment With 120V and ~$100... 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 $1000+... full electric mash and boil. • Best value for your brewing style?
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
Example: Aron Butler’s e-BIAB One-vessel BIAB keggle system, single 240V element for boil and mash (RIMS-like), custom microprocessor controller
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)
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)
Example: Matt Becker’s 50kW RIMS Pilot-scale system with 120 gal MLT@22kW, 55 gal HLT@16.5kW and 55 gal BK@11kW. Controls include industrial PLCs and SCRs.
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.
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.)
That GFCI Seems Expensive… It’s a clever device that can save your life! From Siemens website (GFCI vendor)
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)
Lessons Learned • Alwaysuse 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
Resources Inspiration: www.electricbrewery.com(Kal Wallner) Aron’s build: limbrewing.wordpress.com Parts: www.homebrewing.org www.oscsys.com www.brewershardware.com www.brewhardware.com www.auberins.com www.stainlessbrewing.com Advice: Aron Butler, Sam Firke, Mark Zadvinskis, Brian Lagoe, Matt Becker, Mike O’Brien, others