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Old 02-16-2013, 01:30 AM   #1
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Default ethanol for fermenter chiller fluid

One of my current projects is to add temp control to my 15G fermenters. I am using a stainless steel coil inside the fermenter for chilling and will be pumping from a 6 gallon bucket in a chest freezer.
I am uncomfortable about using glycol as I do have fittings where the tubing passes through the lid and don't want to take the chance that glycol... even a little bit... could ever end up in my beer.
I was thinking that an ethanol (everclear)/water mix would work as a chilling fluid and was surprised that a search of this forum didn't turn up any information on pumping ethanol/water through a chilling coil.
Is this because it is an obviously bad idea for some reason that I just don't see?
for those outside of Pennsylvania, Everclear is a 95%, food safe,pure grain alchohol sold at our local liquor stores for about $16 per 750 ml, and has a freezing temp of -173 F.
If anyone is using this already, I would appreciate hearing about how it's working for you, and what dilutions you use.

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Old 02-16-2013, 01:39 AM   #2
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Subscribed this sounds plausible.

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Old 02-16-2013, 01:45 AM   #3
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Is your system sealed? Ethanol evaporates like crazy pants.

May I ask why you don't want to use glycol? Certainly ethelyne glycol is badbad around food, but propylene glycol (which is what anyone with a chiller used around food should be using) is generally regarded as very safe.

In any case, brine is a good alternative, too.

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Old 02-16-2013, 11:13 AM   #4
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My main concern is food safety, as my conicals aren't jacketed and I will be chilling with a coil of stainless tubing directly in the wort. A quick search on glycol indicated there could be toxicity issues, and I was concerned that a small leak in a fitting could go unnoticed and make the beer unsafe to drink.
like this

http://www.inchem.org/documents/pims/chemical/pim443.htm#SectionTitle:2.1%20%20Main%20risks%20an d%20target%20organs
10.3 Decontamination

In case of eye exposure wash with copious amounts of
water. Remove gastric contents by inducing vomiting or
lavage only after ingestion of large doses (>100 ml) and
very recent ingestion.

100 ml is about 1/2 a cup, so it's unlikely that a toxic dose would end up in in the beer if a fitting was leaking given a typical dilution of 35% Glycol USP/65% water.

Still the toxicity of ethanol seems to be lower than propylene glycol,
http://www.inchem.org/documents/sids/sids/64175.pdf
and the dilution required ... I figure roughly 1 part ethanol to 7 parts water... will be not so volatile, maybe a bit more expensive, but on my small scale (5-10 gallons of coolant) not that big a deal.
I also feel better about the idea that if there should be a small dribble out of a fitting I will end up with an ethanol alcohol /water mix that would be more consistent with beer

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Old 02-16-2013, 11:33 AM   #5
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I work in the food manufacturing industry and everyone is going to glycol
prop glycol is safe. All of our plants in Europe now use this. If you are going to use a coil is it possible to only have joints outside of the fermenter? If so there so be no real risk of contamination.

I think you will find that Ethanol is a very poor refrigerant due to its thermal properties. I think it is possible but I think you are making to much of an issue about the glycol.

PS almost all grocery store coolers now have gone to glycol

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Old 02-16-2013, 12:37 PM   #6
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By everything you've linked here, ethanol seems a heck of a lot more toxic than propylene glycol, but as a rule I wouldn't want to try to convince you to use something you don't feel comfortable with.

In any case, brine still seems like a better solution. Totally food safe, higher specific heat, and much less volatile.

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Old 02-16-2013, 01:31 PM   #7
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Good points all- I suppose just because a substance doesn't freeze doesn't necessarily mean it would have the proper thermal transfer qualities. Right now I have bulkhead compression fittings through the lid of my conicals and mechanically it's very stable. I suppose I could pass the tubing through the lid with a rubber stopper and make my connections outside of the fermenter, but it would certainly be less rigid.
I'm starting to reconsider propylene glycol USP as it seems to be the standard for food-safe chilling. I am pretty confident about my plumbing and agree that it would probably not be an issue to run Propylene Glycol.
I haven't heard about brine for chilling, but I like the idea and am for sure going to check it out... the simplicity of Brine is appealing- all natural, easily made and absolutely no toxicity!

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Old 02-16-2013, 05:50 PM   #8
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Go with propylene glycol. it's food safe, and I've seen it listed as an ingredient in some food flavorings (it's sweet).

The problems with ethanol is 1) it will evaporate out, 2) the water mixed will still freeze, but into a slush unless you have a high percentage of alcohol. It won't damage anything because it won't be solid, but probably won't be as effective.

The glycol chillers i've set up for microbrewerys (3 so far) all use propylene glycol.

RV antifreeze is a mix of many things, but mostly propylene glycol and ethanol, and i've noticed it's not as stable because of the ethanol. I plan to switch over to propylene glycol when I take the system apart next.

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Old 02-16-2013, 06:44 PM   #9
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If you do use brine, be careful with the materials you use with it. It can be corrosive and will (slowly) eat 304 stainless I believe.

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Old 02-16-2013, 07:02 PM   #10
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jeesh... propylene glycol is looking better all the time. Maybe that's why almost everyone uses it.

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