Recirculate with variable controller, no PID?

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Komodo

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Currently I do ~9-10 gallon batches using a burner / keggle, and two 5g coolers. Batch sparge, sometimes an extra dunk sparge if I know my water volume is working as expected.
Recently I overshot my strike water temps, pulled some off to cool, then undershot mash. Heated up a couple gallon of thick mash like a decoction and added it back to the coolers to go back to temps I was aiming at. After that I thought, man I'd like a way to adjust mash temps, or even step mash. Now I'm considering my whole process and what I could do. I love the idea of moving more into the garage even just for wind block, having clearer beer if I recirculate, not messing with propane tanks, etc.

My shop / garage has all the electrical for anything: 240 30 amp with GFCI, and one 50 amp. FOr equipment, I've currently got;
-21g kettle with simple 1/2 NPT
-10g kettle with (2) 1/2" NPT
-15.5g keggle with (2) 1/2" NPT
-all camlocks / silicone, with a Topsflo pump
-another 15.5g "special keggle" (don't ask, I can't tell you) with a 5500w element, bottom drain and 4" TC port on top.
-240v Solid state heater controller, that works essentially like a big volume knob for the element. Literally 0-100%.

I briefly considered a RIMS system, or some kind of HERMS with the "special keggle" and haven't ruled those out, but I guess my goals here would be:
-Simplify where ever I can, fewer vessels, fewer transfers, fewer things to clean, shave time
-move semi-indoor
-recirculate for clarity
-better mash temp control
-switch to electric, ditch propane

What I'm considering is a 20g system, like a BIAB, heated with an element and my controller, while recirculating with the Topsflo. I'd just need to add a basket or bag with bag standoff, port and element to the 21g pot, immediate temp port by element for feedback, some recirculation considerations, and that's it? I get that I wouldn't have the PID control and would likely have to babysit it like a propane burner, but am still wondering if this is doable. Just seems like a modest outlay vs buying a whole 20g Spike Solo or similar. Those are gonna set me back at least 700-1000.

All thoughts appreciated.
 

doug293cz

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You will quickly tire of trying to maintain stable mash temps with a manual power control. You will also likely suffer from temp overshoots. Go ahead and try it if you want. I suggest configuring your vessel to us one of the elements with a tri-clamp base with integral L6-30 plug. Makes disconnecting the power cable easy, and also the element is easily removed from the kettle for cleaning.

Make sure you use a GFCI protected power source, and your controller should have a provision for positive (contactor of mechanical switch) disconnect to be able to shut off all power in case of an SSR/SSVR failure (they usually fail in the on mode.) Disconnecting a plug carrying 23A from a wall outlet is not a good way to remove power from a malfunctioning system.

The temp probe used to control element power should be located as close as possible to the element, and in the flow path to the recirculation pick-up. This minimizes time delays from temperature change vs. when the temp change is detected. Significant time delays lead to system instability (temp oscillations.)

A simple BIAB controller doesn't have to be expensive, you can go with a Blichmann BrewCommander or Auber Cube, or for less money build your own (I have published several designs you could use.)

Brew on :mug:
 
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Komodo

Komodo

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Thanks for the reply. I guess my thinking is that this would basically cost me nothing, except for the new element and port, and I could incorporate a PID at a later date. Also, I wouldn't this be just like someone using a direct fired burner and recirculating? Except way more efficient heat transfer? If I were driving this, I would go for very low heat injections with constant recirculation. Surely someone has done this before . . .

Thanks for the tip on adding a switch to the controller, I've got a 30 amp GFCI in the box, but having a kill switch on the box is a great idea.
 

doug293cz

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Thanks for the reply. I guess my thinking is that this would basically cost me nothing, except for the new element and port, and I could incorporate a PID at a later date. Also, I wouldn't this be just like someone using a direct fired burner and recirculating? Except way more efficient heat transfer? If I were driving this, I would go for very low heat injections with constant recirculation. Surely someone has done this before . . .

Thanks for the tip on adding a switch to the controller, I've got a 30 amp GFCI in the box, but having a kill switch on the box is a great idea.
You need some way to control the power input to the element. You can't just run full power and switch it off and on periodically (you will scorch the wort.) As a minimum you need something like a StillDragon controller to vary the power to the element. This is analogous to adjusting the gas flow on a burner, but have you ever tried to do mash temp control with the burner on, and trying to make small adjustments to keep the temp stable?

Brew on :mug:
 
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Komodo

Komodo

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Oh no, I have this already using it to control the 240 element in the "special kettle". The heater controller mentioned in my first post is this:

It's still just a big volume knob, but it works exactly like using a burner with variable output from 0-100%. I was figuring I'd be running it very low, and recirculating. It would be a problem if you overshoot, but with direct temp monitoring. I wonder what it would be like.
EDIT: I lied, it looks like I’m using a 20 amp GFCI.
 

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doug293cz

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Oh no, I have this already using it to control the 240 element in the "special kettle". The heater controller mentioned in my first post is this:

It's still just a big volume knob, but it works exactly like using a burner with variable output from 0-100%. I was figuring I'd be running it very low, and recirculating. It would be a problem if you overshoot, but with direct temp monitoring. I wonder what it would be like.
EDIT: I lied, it looks like I’m using a 20 amp GFCI.
On a 20A circuit, that controller shouldn't be used with anything more than a 4500W (rated at 240V) element. At 240V, a 5500W element will draw almost 23A at full power, which will overload your 20A circuit.

Brew on :mug:
 
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Komodo

Komodo

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Sure thing. I said 5500w earlier probably because that’s what I’ve been looking at all day. I’ll have to crack that one open to see what the element actually is.

Edit: Yep. 4500w LWD. Probably built that 10+ years ago. There’s a lot better elements to use now.
 
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