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Wish List Item: Backyard Geothermal Beer Keg System

by Nic Darling on September 15, 2009 · 12 comments

in Design,Philosophy

I will begin by admitting that someone has undoubtedly come up with this idea or something very much like it. There is also a pretty good chance I could have discovered the original thinker behind it if I did a little investigative Google searching. By doing this I might have reduced this blog post to a simple link. However, if Columbus didn’t let a few million pesky forerunners keep him from “discovering” America and grabbing a few pages in the history books, why should I let my great idea be spoiled just because someone else already had it?

Essentially, I want what every right minded person wants; a loving family, meaningful work, good health and my very own beer tap. The first three seem to be the main topics of virtually every self-help book, and yet, the last is almost always over-looked. Why? Do we not realize the profound effect of fresh draft beer on the human soul? Do we somehow imagine that the can, the bottle, the gross-plastic-things-they-sell-at-ballparks can replace the wonder that is foaming, cascading tap-poured beer?

Besides, isn’t a keg more environmentally friendly? No bottles or cans to throw out or, in the best case, recycle. Kegs are cleaned and reused, just like the beautiful glassware into which their sweet nectar is poured. Packaging is significantly lower with less in the way of labels and boxes, and there are always tons of good, local brews available (at least around me).

But wait, I hear some of you say, wouldn’t a keg mean . . . an extra refrigerator? A beer fridge? Ahh, there’s the rub. The fridge. The energy sucking, ambient heating, cavern of cool into which I must place my precious kegs to get them to that ever so tasty temperature at which beer should be enjoyed. Worse, to have a real tap I would need to carve a hole in that fridge, a hole through which energy could escape making it less efficient than ever. Fortunately, this is where my superb (play along) idea comes into play.

Five or more feet below the earth’s surface the temperature remains nearly constant at around 50-55 degrees (this varies a bit by region of course). The ideal temperature for enjoying most beers (lagers, fruit beers and wheat beers like it a bit cooler) is 50-55 degrees. Coincidence? I think not. What if, rather than chill our beer with a fridge, we harnessed the earth’s power to maintain our ideal beer temp.? This isn’t a new idea. People have long “cellared” beers underground to cool them to drinkable temps. But if you don’t have a cellar . . .

Essentially, my concept is to create my tap lines out of some sort of conductive tubing and bury long coils in my backyard. The beer would leave my room-temperature keg and flow through the underground coils, exchanging energy with the cool ground. By the time I pulled the beer from my tap it would be cold and delicious. Tasty beer at the perfect temperature with no refrigeration. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

Now, I admit that I have no idea what the exact logistics of this type of setup might be. How long a run do I need to equalize the temp between the ground and the beer? How do I make the beer flow all that additional distance? Out of what type of material do I make my lines? If you can answer any of these questions, do it in the comments and make my day.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon September 15, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I can see there being a very happy marriage between the geothermal loops and a “traditional” jockey box. Jockey boxes work, basically, as a heat exchanger. The idea is that you take a cooler, fill it with ice. Then as you open your beer tap, the beer flows out of the keg, through a long copper tube wrapped in multiple loops that have been submerged in the ice bath. This cools the beer from whatever temperature it was leaving the keg to ice cold deliciousness. See http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Jockey-Box-Beer-tapcooler/ for more info.

So to answer your last few questions, I’m thinking that instead of moving the beer all the way through the loop, set up a geothermal loop that flows coolant over your beer lines. The inner beer lines would be copper, the outer line would need to be some type on insulator…PVC maybe. The heat exchanger I’m thinking of would be less like the coil above but more line a manifold heat exchanger. See page 4 of the attached PDF for what I’m thinking. http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/WaterHeating/MSClosedLoop.pdf

haha. Fun Idea. I’m fully behind this.

2 GreenBuildinginDenverdotcom September 15, 2009 at 11:05 pm

But now that you’ve essentially disclosed the idea to hundreds of people, neither of you have a chance at patenting it.

3 Mike September 16, 2009 at 11:08 am

Nic,

You are a visionary. Thank you for your pioneering work in this important field. Thought you might be interested in this bit of history from the Schlafly Beer website:

“Around 1840, a German-style revolution began in a 12-barrel kettle. Here, a recent immigrant named Johann Adam Lemp brewed St. Louis’s first lager beer. Lager was relatively unknown in America. But it would become the most popular beer in the nation and Lemp would become the father of a brewing empire.

Lemp was part of a wave of immigration that turned into a flood later in the decade. War in Germany led thousands to flock to the American midwest, forever changing the culture of the region. By the 1850s, nearly one-third of the residents of St. Louis were German immigrants.

“Lagern” means to store, and one key to making the beer was having a cold place to store it. German beermakers were attracted to St. Louis by the limestone caves that lie beneath the city and they converted these natural refrigerators into beer cellars. Ice from the Mississippi kept the caves cool into the summer drinking season.”

Germans, passive cooling and beer…Klingenberg is going to have a field day with this.

Mike

4 Anthony September 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Nic – Great idea and totally possible. The question is whether the resources to complete such a task outweigh the benefits. There are a few challenges that you would need to overcome. To name a couple, most beers outside north and south america are not pasturized, therefore the keg itself would need to be cooled to minimize the yeast growth and extend the useful life of the keg. Second, the carbonation levels in beers differ and react differently to temperature and pressure. I have extensive experience with draft beer. If you’re serious about this venture, let me know.

5 Jim Wild September 16, 2009 at 5:22 pm

take an old small combi boiler (do you use these in USA?). Modify with minimal plumbing and electrical skills.
Connect the beer supply to cold feed (you need to sort out the flow system for the beer yourself), and then HW outlet is now the cold beer outlet, plumb to sensibly positioned tap. Connect the boiler side of the Hot Water (cold beer) heat exchanger to your underground pipe loop and use the inbuilt pump to pump this round. Strip all the now redundant parts out, wire the pump to a simple switch, and it’s waste put to good use. With a slow flow of beer your only looking for a few kW of heat exchange so 20-30m of buried plastic pipe should do. You might even get the empty boiler casing to act as the cradle for your keg.

6 Anthony September 16, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Sorry Nic – I meant beers in north america are not pasturized.

7 Nic Darling September 21, 2009 at 11:42 am

This is why I love this blog. I can toss out a crazy idea and get real, useful thoughts on it. I am definitely serious about trying this at some point in the future, and I will likely take the offers of assistance when I do.

8 John September 25, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Hi- I live in Philadelphia and we are the guys behind the world’s first all in one beer machine check it out http://www.nanobrewingtech.com
Our cooling system is a bit more complex – Cheers, John

9 tom toolbag September 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm

WOW!!! I see I’m not the only one who has put some thought into this idea! I had thought about running some coolant lines through the homemade solar water-heater to a compressor that runs into a pit filled with moist sand that is insulated, that the keg sits in. This would be powered by a small p.v. panel, but I was afraid the heat intake would be too intense, which would freeze the cooling line. My other concern was to have a short line to the tapper so as to minimize wasting beer to get fresh and/or cold beer, and also ease of cleaning the line. Ohhhh, if there was such an invention what a perfect world this would be!

10 William Brokhof October 1, 2009 at 9:47 am

If you run for President I’ll vote for you.

11 Nic Darling October 1, 2009 at 12:07 pm

John – I’m gonna need one of those for . . . um . . . you know . . . experimental testing and such.

Tom – That is one intense setup, but if effective it could solve the pasteurization problem mentioned by Anthony. Of course, a properly high consumption rate also solves that problem (and creates others).

William – Thank you, but I’m afraid my political aspirations currently take a back seat to my beer and sustainability ones. However, should the occasion arise, I will be needing a beer czar I suppose.

12 Sandra Lester November 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm

This reminds me of the storage jars that I saw set into the floor of the kitchen in a Plantation House in Louisiana. It acted as a geothermal storage system for food due to the high water table.
Read my article about it in the Weather Issue of OnSite Review: http://issuu.com/onsitereview/docs/onsite21 (Page 46).

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