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Basically what the title says. I'd like to switch to all grain at some point but the volume of water required to cool a decent sized wort down scares me.

Assuming I have access to liquid nitrogen, how can I use it to cool my wort? Can I just dump it in? Can I use standard cooling gear?

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I understand the potential for worry about water consumption, but I would be surprised if the amout of water used to generate the energy that goes into the process of obtaining liquid nitrogen would be any less! Never mind the hazards of handling liquid nitrogen. I would much sooner use the "no-chill" method, or look at ways to reclaim and reuse the water from chilling. –  tallie Oct 12 '12 at 8:52
    
@tallie I've never heard of the "no-chill" method. Could you point to any reference? Really just makes me curious... –  hartski Oct 12 '12 at 12:22
    
@hartski Check out: homebrewtalk.com/f13/exploring-no-chill-brewing-117111 –  Graham Oct 12 '12 at 13:42
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There's not a chance in hell that the process of producing Liquid Nitrogen is less water intensive than running tap water through a chiller for 15-20 min. –  Graham Oct 12 '12 at 13:46
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Water and safety issues aside, it'd probably look pretty awesome. –  fire.eagle Oct 12 '12 at 13:48
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Hehe, bad idea - you couldn't have a beer on brewday since you'd have to stay sober to handle this with appropriate care!

But seriously, I'm wondering that if you have to ask the question about suitability then you are probably not familiar with handling liquid nitrogen. As well as getting suitable training, you would need equipment that is designed to work at those temperatures - while a copper heat exchange coil might be fine, gaskets and hoses would have to be swapped out for types that can tolerate the cold temperature and the pressure. The liquid to gas expansion at room temperature is nearly 700-fold, so great pressure can be created with risk of explosion.

Also, nitrogen isn't so great a coolant. Wikipedia says this:

Despite its reputation, liquid nitrogen's efficiency as a coolant is limited by the fact that it boils immediately on contact with a warmer object, enveloping the object in insulating nitrogen gas. This effect, known as the Leidenfrost effect, applies to any liquid in contact with an object significantly hotter than its boiling point. More rapid cooling may be obtained by plunging an object into a slush of liquid and solid nitrogen rather than liquid nitrogen alone.

In other words, heat exchange is effective while the nitrogen is liquid. Nitrogen is liquid between 63K and 77K - so that's at most a change in temperature of 14C (25F) before it becomes a gas and then becomes much less effective at heat exchange. So, even though the nitrogen is very cold, little of that temperature difference is exchanged with the wort. You'd need a lot of nitrogen, and it is certainly less efficient than using water.

This, combined with all the above seems to make it not worth the hassle or risk.

Looking at your original fear of the amount of water used, I use 18-22 gallons of water to chill 10 gallons of wort to pitching temps via a Dudadiesel 50 plate chiller. The amount varies with the time of year.

The output from the chiller goes back into my HLT. The water comes out warm - around 50-60C/125-140F, which I typically use some or all afterwards, so it's not wasted:

  • Use some of it to clean out the boil kettle and MLT after brewday, rinsing out the pumps, chiller, HERMS coil etc..
  • Mix some with oxyclean/PBW for a more intensive clean of the kettles, cleaning buckets/carboys etc..
  • leave it in the HLT with the lid on and brew again the next day.

The last one is the most efficient use - by using the water again for the next day's brew, your water wastage can become much less per brew. Also heating is reduced in half since most of the heat is retained, making it also more energy efficient.

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It never occurred to me to capture the hot water coming out of the chiller. This is a great idea for getting hot water for cleanup. –  Henry Jackson May 20 '13 at 5:00
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I don't think it would be worth the hassle. If you dump it in, or pour it around your BK you run the risk of cracking your kettle (less of an issue with SS than aluminium but still a possibility), and a dual heat exchanger will be a lot of work because you'll have to run antifreeze through it (plus get appropriately-rated hoses as @mdma mentioned).

If you really want to conserve chilling water, I'd suggest a dual heat exchanger set-up with some dry ice. It'll bring your temps down pretty fast, and you'll only use a couple gallons of water. Of course, you can get nearly the same effect by using frozen bags of water instead of the dry ice (which you could just re-freeze), but it wouldn't look as cool! :)

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