Author Topic: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?  (Read 1413 times)

Offline Malthopper

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Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« on: May 11, 2021, 09:48:22 am »
Anyone ever try using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller? They are new to me so for anyone else unfamiliar it's basically just a cooler with heat exchange coils wrapped around it and a compressor. Very similar to a chest freezer in design. They come with a 12-volt DC adapter for your vehicle or RV as well as an AC adapter for use at home. There seems to be several manufacturers all making units of different sizes. The one that caught my eye is the Alpicool C20 with a 20 quart capacity. Should comfortably hold 4 gallons of glycol solution which I imagine would be enough cooling potential for 2 fermenters. The lid is removable and I plan to drill holes and run glycol lines through it. One of the main reasons I'm focused on this unit in particular is the design of the interior. Most of the units I looked at had a plastic tub for the bottom half just like a regular cooler. But then about halfway up there would be a seam and the top half would be metal like a chest freezer. This unit seems to have one solid plastic tub. I understand that metal would give a better heat exchange but a plastic tub would be great at holding glycol solution. Price is another consideration, this unit is pretty reasonable at around $200 new. Any thoughts or words of advice before I just order one and start tinkering with it?

Offline ynotbrusum

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2021, 08:59:52 am »
Best of luck on the adaptation.  I use a simple dorm fridge with a plastic tub full of glycol that runs through a cooling jacket

http://www.gotta-brew.com/products/cool-zone-cooling-jacket.html

It is pretty capable of holding temps in the low to mid 50's with an insulated bag (with ambient temperatures in the 70's and low 80's):

https://www.morebeer.com/products/cool-brewing-fermentation-cooler-bag.html?gclid=CjwKCAjw-e2EBhAhEiwAJI5jg1OKc1JPWbuegYvyFOK-kd4u4pMYX2EGq7ajp79nDGQCPToP-LeLWRoC_6QQAvD_BwE

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Offline Malthopper

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2021, 09:55:36 am »
Thanks for the feedback! I was familiar with the insulated bag but the coolant sleeve is new to me and i like the concept. I've been brewing since 2007 and am still working with glass carboys but am planning to get away from them for a few reasons. My current set-up is a 6.5 gallon carboy floating in a 10 gallon round cooler that's filled with a gallon of water. Sitting underneath the carboy at the bottom of the cooler is a cheap pond pump from harbor freight. The pump is fitted with tubing that runs inside my keezer and into a corny keg full of chilled water, then back out the keezer and returned to the round cooler. Controlled by an inkbird. Can hold my fermentation as low as the mid 50's. Not a bad system for the most part except that I have a lot of condensation build up on the chiller keg inside my keezer from all the heat exchange. Had a nice puddle down there a week ago that i had to sop up with a rag. Before this I had a chest freezer controlled by an inkbird set-up as a fermentation chamber. My end goal is a glycol chiller and two stainless fermenters: one 5 gallon and one 10 gallon.

Offline MNWayne

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2021, 07:17:21 pm »
Before dropping $200 I'd first try converting a used window air conditioner. I found one at a garage sale for $5. Probably dropped another $70 on glycol, a cooler and an aquarium pump.  It's capable of cooling a 10 gallon fermenter.  (The aquarium pump is to circulate the glycol around the cooling unit to prevent icing.) 
Far better to dare mighty things....

Offline Rbalsinger

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2021, 10:18:09 am »
I use an abandoned water cooler. The jacket fits corny or fermenter.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/08UrB7c-i2PAwNixP2VqJ6Ryg

Offline Malthopper

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2021, 10:10:34 am »
Thanks for the great feedback! I have a lot of love for Ingenuity in the home brewery and appreciate the build-outs that you shared with me. The water cooler route is new to me. Great way to repurpose one of those! I've looked at some threads about the mini fridge method too. My concern is whether or not they would hold enough glycol and have the cooling capacity to lager 10 gallon batches in one fermenter while keeping another 5-gallon batch at ale temps. The unit I'm looking at should hold 4 gallons comfortably. I'm also aware of the window AC unit method and don't want to go in that direction. It's a great concept and very efficient but I don't like the stress of bending copper coolant lines. And I would want to put it on a cart and build some sort of box to put around it so it looks okay, which would up the price and take more of my time. Last I checked the cheapest window unit I could find was around $150 so that's not much cheaper than the $200 unit that I'm looking at. I know I could find one used for cheaper but I don't like the idea of repurposing a used window unit and hoping to get several years use out of it.

Offline Malthopper

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2021, 04:07:51 pm »
It's alive! I settled on the Joytotus 30 liter portable fridge/freezer which I found on Amazon for around $250 out the door. It's the older model they were trying to clear out so that saved me a hundred bucks or so. And I happened to like the looks of the older model too so that was a bonus. It's black and orange in color and looks kinda like a trunk with it's boxy shape and handles. I've become a huge fan of Anvil Brewing equipment lately so the color scheme fits in nicely in my home brewery. But I shouldn't be so vain as to ramble on about her good looks when it's personality that really counts. After unboxing I plugged it in and ran it as a freezer for a few days. Everything seemed to be working fine. Next step was to remove the Mickey Mouse drain plug assembly that was not water tight. It came out clean and easy so I then plugged the hole with some JB Water weld. I filled it with 6 gallons of water and there were no leaks. It took 4-6 hours to bring the temp down to around 40°F. Then i cranked it down some more and a few hours later there was a large chunk of ice forming on one side, so that's a good sign of it's total cooling potential. I then readjusted the thermostat to level off the temp around 40°F so no ice would form. Soon I will get a gallon or two of glycol and see if it can keep the solution at 20°F, maybe even 0°F? So currently it is a water chiller and I'm using it to keep a batch of english pale ale at 65°F. The fermenting wort is in a 6.5 gallon glass carboy. The carboy is sitting inside a 10 gallon round igloo cooler filled with 2 gallons of water. A small pump underneath the carboy is controlled by an inkbird and circulates the water from the igloo cooler through a stainless coil that sits in the water cooler and then returns it to the igloo cooler. Will it be able to cold crash? Can it hold kolsch and lager temps? Does it have the cooling capacity to keep a 5 gallon batch of ale chilled in one fermenter while lagering 10 gallons in another? Stay tuned to find out...

Offline BrewNerd

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2021, 09:06:40 am »
It's alive! I settled on the Joytotus 30 liter portable fridge/freezer which I found on Amazon for around $250 out the door. It's the older model they were trying to clear out so that saved me a hundred bucks or so. And I happened to like the looks of the older model too so that was a bonus. It's black and orange in color and looks kinda like a trunk with it's boxy shape and handles. I've become a huge fan of Anvil Brewing equipment lately so the color scheme fits in nicely in my home brewery. But I shouldn't be so vain as to ramble on about her good looks when it's personality that really counts. After unboxing I plugged it in and ran it as a freezer for a few days. Everything seemed to be working fine. Next step was to remove the Mickey Mouse drain plug assembly that was not water tight. It came out clean and easy so I then plugged the hole with some JB Water weld. I filled it with 6 gallons of water and there were no leaks. It took 4-6 hours to bring the temp down to around 40°F. Then i cranked it down some more and a few hours later there was a large chunk of ice forming on one side, so that's a good sign of it's total cooling potential. I then readjusted the thermostat to level off the temp around 40°F so no ice would form. Soon I will get a gallon or two of glycol and see if it can keep the solution at 20°F, maybe even 0°F? So currently it is a water chiller and I'm using it to keep a batch of english pale ale at 65°F. The fermenting wort is in a 6.5 gallon glass carboy. The carboy is sitting inside a 10 gallon round igloo cooler filled with 2 gallons of water. A small pump underneath the carboy is controlled by an inkbird and circulates the water from the igloo cooler through a stainless coil that sits in the water cooler and then returns it to the igloo cooler. Will it be able to cold crash? Can it hold kolsch and lager temps? Does it have the cooling capacity to keep a 5 gallon batch of ale chilled in one fermenter while lagering 10 gallons in another? Stay tuned to find out...

No sarcasm intended here, I'm genuinely fascinated to hear what happens.

Glycol chillers have always seemed like an enigma and seeing the price tags of the purpose built ones scared me off.

Reading these comments about all the trials and builds you folks have undertaken makes it seem downright accessible. Veil of mystery pulled back!!

Offline Malthopper

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2021, 07:31:56 pm »
Alright so I was able to use my cooling system to make a Brithish Pale Ale. Fermented at 65°F then let it raise to 68°F for 5 days. Time had come to cold crash, and I was only able to cool it down to 50°F! Little disappointed until I thought into it more, now I'm still optimistic. So keep in mind that I only have water in the system right now, no glocol yet. I was keeping the water reservior at around 40°F so there was no danger of freezing up. I think when I add a gallon or two of glycol and crank it down to hopefully 20° or even 0°F then it will be able to crash a batch no problem. Got another ale coming out next and then a kolsch.
Prost!

Offline Loveinbeer

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Re: Using a portable fridge/freezer as a glycol chiller?
« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2022, 02:44:52 pm »
Hi Malthopper, any update on whether you were able to get it down to cold crashing temperatures