Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water cooling!

Anything cooling/condenser related.

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mason jar
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Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water cooling!

Post by mason jar » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:51 pm

I have been using a liebig condenser on my stills for several years now because
it was so easy to build and it's very effective. However it does require quite a
bit of water and it's a hassle to set it up, what with all the cooling water
buckets, the re-circ pump, water pipes, etc. Plus I live in an area that's been
under a drought for quite a while so I would like to cut down my water consumption.

Given all that, I wanted to try an air cooled condenser. I searched through the
HD forums and found quite a few threads that mentioned air cooled condensers.
I was hoping to find some examples to model my new condenser after but it seems
that not too many people like air cooling. Some have even gone so far as to say
it's a waste of time and that air cooling, especially if you use a gas/propane burner,
just won't work very well.

Not to be discouraged, I kept looking. I found a few threads that mentioned
"baseboard heaters". These are simply a long straight copper pipe with a *lot*
of aluminum fins pressed onto the outside which are normally used for steam
heating systems. Several people seemed to think that these might work but I
couldn't find any examples where someone had used one for a condenser build.
Now, I don't know much about thermodynamics, but it seemed to me that if these
things work well for a heating system then they should be able to dissipate
the heat from my alcohol vapor fairly well too. Besides, you can't get much
simpler than a straight pipe and I wanted something simple to build.

I found several places on the internet that sell these things (the proper name
is actually "hydronic heating element") so I ordered a five foot element. Here's
what it looks like:
hydronic_heating_element.jpg
I needed some fans to blow across the fins to cool it down, so I bought nine of
those little black fans like you might find in a computer and mounted them on the
bottom of the wooden cradle so that they would blow air up across the fins. The
fans are 120mm, 120V AC units rated at 100 cubic feet per minute, so they blow
quite a bit of air for such little fans.
computer_fan.jpg
Since the heating elements fins are a little fragile, I wanted to make something
that would keep it enclosed. Plus I wanted to have something to act as an air duct
to force the air from the fans over the fins. I built a simple wooden "cradle" to
hold the element along with the fans. The whole assembly ended up being heavier
than I had expected so I also built some legs to hold it up because it's too heavy
to just hang off the still riser like my old (very light) liebig could. Here
are some pics of the whole assembly:
Side view
Side view
Top view
Top view
Top view close up
Top view close up
Bottom view
Bottom view
Well I'm at my attachment limit, so more in the next post...

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:54 pm

I have not done an alcohol run with it yet, but I put everything together
and hooked it up to my still then did a water run to test it out. Here's
my new still (build thread: http://homedistiller.org/forum/viewtopi ... 50&t=54591)
My simple pot still
My simple pot still
And here is the whole set up, including the new condenser, ready for the water run:
my_still_and_air_cooled_condenso.jpg
Test Results:

I turned the flame on full-blast and let everything heat up (with the fans OFF)
until there was tons of steam pouring out of the end of the condenser. Since there
is more energy in water vapor than alcohol vapor, I figured this would be the worst
it could ever get, so if this condenser could knock down all of that steam then it
would certainly work for an alcohol run.

Once the entire condenser was up to temperature (even the output end was way too
hot for me too touch) I turned on the fans. Within 10 seconds the steam went away
and water started to drip out. The water was hot at first, but there was no more
steam. Within 2 minutes, only about the top 12 inches of the condenser was too hot
to touch. The next few inches were warm and the rest was nearly down to room temperature
(my kitchen was about 73F at the time). The water coming out of the condenser was
nearly down to room temperature within 3 minutes and it stayed that way for the rest
of my water run.

I was shocked! I did not think an air cooled condenser would actually work this
well. I thought the output was going to be warm to almost hot and I would be lucky
to knock down all the vapor, especially on a water run. Up to this point I had
considered this whole thing just an experiment and I figured there was a good chance
that it might not work very well, given the fact that everyone says water cooling is
the best way to go. But it worked. VERY well in fact. I think I will retire my trusty
old liebig and this will be the only condenser I ever use from now on.
No more water cooling for me!

So if you have electric power at your still site and you have been wanting to
experiment with an air cooled condenser, take it from me; get a section of hydronic
heating element and a few computer fans. It *WILL* work. Quite well in fact.

Give it a shot and maybe you will never go back to water cooling either!
Last edited by mason jar on Sat Feb 28, 2015 4:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:54 pm


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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Halfbaked » Sat Feb 28, 2015 6:49 pm

Is this out of a water base board heater?

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by carbohydratesn » Sat Feb 28, 2015 7:10 pm

Halfbaked wrote:Is this out of a water base board heater?
No, but it was made for that purpose - just like mason jar said.
mason jar wrote:I found several places on the internet that sell these things (the proper name
is actually "hydronic heating element") so I ordered a five foot element.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sat Feb 28, 2015 7:28 pm

Halfbaked wrote:Is this out of a water base board heater?
Yeah but it's new, not out of an old baseboard heater. I had never seen one of these before
since they don't use steam heat where I'm from. I stumbled onto a post that had a picture of
one a few months ago so I found a place that sells them new and bought one to use for my condenser.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Swag » Sat Feb 28, 2015 8:49 pm

Very nice work! I knew air had enough capacity to cool these stills. Thanks for the validation.
I like the shroud too, nice clean work. :thumbup:
For some applications water is difficult, or very inconvenient to use- especially in an apartment. Air is a good alternative for some folks. If you get 12 VDC fans, you could run them off a car battery. Heck, you could fire up the still in the back of the camper with the wife tending it. Make some good use of a long drive.
Cheers!
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Brutal » Sun Mar 01, 2015 6:36 am

Wow! Disregard what I said in your other thread I guess. It's cool that that worked so well! So how loud is that with 9 120v fans?
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:23 am

Swag wrote:... Heck, you could fire up the still in the back of the camper with the wife tending it.
Cheers!
Awesome!!
Oh honey.... time for a rad trip! :twisted:
....OK, maybe not :shock:

Seriously though, that could work and make the whole thing portable. Good idea.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:26 am

Brutal wrote:Wow! Disregard what I said in your other thread I guess. It's cool that that worked so well! So how loud is that with 9 120v fans?
No problem Brutal. I figured not too many people would think air cooled would work very well. Heck, that's
half the reason I tried it, just to see if I could get it to work. Good thing it did, otherwise I would have wasted
some bucks!

As for the sound, yeah it' is a little loud. Not too bad though. It just sounds like a bunch of computers all stacked
up in one place.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by ga flatwoods » Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:32 am

Well, where the hell did you get it and how much did it cost? Why did we have to ask, and why hadn't anyone done so 'fore me?
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by DeepSouth » Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:40 am

That looks great. The only thing I would be concerned with is over the course of a long run, it might heat up your kitchen a lot. But I guess if your air conditioning system is working well, you might never notice. If you had that setup in a non air conditioned space like a garage or shed, it would be good to run some sort of flexible ducting to expel the hot air from the room. Nice job.
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by The KYChemist » Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:52 am

Hmmm... This has me rethinking the shotgun condensor, I just made. Did a quick search of Amazon... They basically sell just the fins, and they clamp around your copper pipe. I have seen them in 1", and 3/4". Along with 1 and 2 foot lengths. Nice work, BTW. Looks clean, and well done.



Fin Clamp Hydronic Baseboard Element Additional Fins 2 Foot Section for 3/4 Inch Copper https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GHUSRSY/re ... 8ub0TD47SM" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:07 am

ga flatwoods wrote:Well, where the hell did you get it and how much did it cost? Why did we have to ask, and why hadn't anyone done so 'fore me?
Sorry about that Ga, I didn't know if it was appropriate to post links to stuff for sale. Anyway, here you go.

(Just to be clear, I have no affiliation with these companies)

Hydronic heating element:
Source: SupplyHouse.com
Link: http://www.supplyhouse.com/Slant-Fin-10 ... ak-80-5-ft" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow
Cost: $63 US

Fans:
Source: Parts Express
Link: http://www.parts-express.com/muffin-sty ... m--250-058" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow
Cost: $5.51 US each

Wood and misc. hardware:
Source: Lowes
Cost: Sorry, don't remember

So everything together, including shipping for the element and fans, it was about $150 US.
I'm sure I could have shopped around and found some things a little cheaper, but I didn't spend
much time doing that. I was impatient so I just ordered the first things I found :oops:

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:11 am

The KYChemist wrote:...Did a quick search of Amazon... They basically sell just the fins, and they clamp around your copper pipe. I have seen them in 1", and 3/4". Along with 1 and 2 foot lengths.... Fin Clamp Hydronic Baseboard Element Additional Fins 2 Foot Section for 3/4 Inch Copper https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GHUSRSY/re ... 8ub0TD47SM" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow
Hey, that's really cool. I didn't know they made those. They are a bit pricey though. The 2 foot length
cost about the same as my entire 5 foot heating element. They would be a great option for retrofitting
something existing though.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by The KYChemist » Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:15 am

mason jar wrote:
Hey, that's really cool. I didn't know they made those. They are a bit pricey though. The 2 foot length
cost about the same as my entire 5 foot heating element. They would be a great option for retrofitting
something existing though.
Yeah... Your option definitely makes more financial sense. I just did a spur of the moment search, and that's what came up first.
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Edwin Croissant » Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:25 am

Great job! Excellent write up, lots of technical information.
mason jar wrote: I turned the flame on full-blast and let everything heat up (with the fans OFF)
It would be nice to know how much heat that flame on full-blast produce.
To measure that is quite simple, just measure how much condensate comes out of the condenser per minute.
The evaporation heat of one kilogram of water is about 2260 kJ so 1 kW of heat produces 26.6 grams of steam per minute.
If you measure 106 grams in one minute, your condenser is knocking down 4 kW.
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Odin » Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:29 am

Nice approach!

:clap:

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:49 am

Edwin Croissant wrote: ...It would be nice to know how much heat that flame on full-blast produce.
To measure that is quite simple, just measure how much condensate comes out of the condenser per minute.
The evaporation heat of one kilogram of water is about 2260 kJ so 1 kW of heat produces 26.6 grams of steam per minute. If you measure 106 grams in one minute, your condenser is knocking down 4 kW.
Everyone is always talking about how many kilowatts of power they run, but I never knew how to
measure that on my stove burner. This sounds real easy so as soon as I get some time to do another
water run I will try this out. I gotta go get me a little scale so I can weight the water first though,
or maybe just use a graduated cylinder to measure the volume.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Moonshiner 67 » Sun Mar 01, 2015 12:22 pm

This is awesome man! good job
Pot still w/ 15.5gal keg boiler, 7.5gal keg thumper, and 36" liebig condenser!

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by aceswired » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:02 pm

This is great. Thinking a 6 - 12 inch section of these in front of my worm could reduce my need for circulation. Might be worth investigating a hybrid air/water condenser.

Thanks for sharing!

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by Hound Dog » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:13 pm

Good job Mason Jar! Swag, this is along the lines I was thinking for your reflux condenser. Could you see five of these upright as a deflag? Don't know how long it would have to be but it has potential.

Mason Jar, good job on gathering all the links to air cooling in one spot also. Good to see you did some research from years of posts. :thumbup:
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by bellybuster » Sun Mar 01, 2015 3:45 pm

am I the only one that sees a convoluted power requiring expensive thing that could be replaced with a bit of copper and a bit of water?? Not to be negative but where are you that water is that expensive?

Nice work though


ok went back and read your first paragraph. It is a very cool condenser. haha...cool...get it??

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by still_stirrin » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:08 pm

bellybuster wrote:am I the only one that sees a convoluted power requiring expensive thing that could be replaced with a bit of copper and a bit of water?? Not to be negative but where are you that water is that expensive?...
hee, hee, hee....
I'm all for innovative designs, but sometimes certain designs simply aren't practical (or cost effective).
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by humbledore » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:17 pm

Well the entire Southwest of the US is in a severe drought, isn't it? It's illegal to water your lawn, LA is about bone dry, hell I live by the great lakes and I fully expect California to start calling us anytime saying "Hey, you know about all those fresh strawberries and tomatoes you like to eat in winter? How about 40 or 50 supertankers of fresh water a year as a trade"? I don't know how this would scale to a larger setup but it's thought provoking for sure.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:21 pm

bellybuster wrote:am I the only one that sees a convoluted power requiring expensive thing that could be replaced with a bit of copper and a bit of water?? Not to be negative but where are you that water is that expensive?
Convoluted? Well I will admit it is quite the contraption. It's big, but I've got the space for it so no
problem there.

Power hungry? It uses about 230 Watts of power. That's probably less than the lights in my kitchen. Not
really a big deal. I suspect I could get away with a few less fans since it works so well so I could reduce
the power consumption a little.

Expensive? Well, I gotta own that one. I certainly did not try to keep costs down. :oops:

Bottom line is that, for me, water cooling is a big hassle and I don't want to do that any more so here we are :D
bellybuster wrote: ...ok went back and read your first paragraph. It is a very cool condenser.
haha...cool...get it??
Yeah, it's actually much cooler (temperature :D) than I thought it would be. I'm happy with it.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:23 pm

still_stirrin wrote: I'm all for innovative designs, but sometimes certain designs simply aren't practical
(or cost effective). ss
Money was not a factor :moresarcasm: Wow, that felt good to say. :P
It was expensive I admit, but it works pretty darn well.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by mason jar » Sun Mar 01, 2015 4:25 pm

humbledore wrote:Well the entire Southwest of the US is in a severe drought, isn't it?
Yep, and I live right in the middle of it. That was part of the reason for me trying this idea.

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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by The KYChemist » Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:02 pm

mason jar wrote:
still_stirrin wrote: I'm all for innovative designs, but sometimes certain designs simply aren't practical
(or cost effective). ss
Money was not a factor :moresarcasm: Wow, that felt good to say. :P
It was expensive I admit, but it works pretty darn well.
This is one of the things that irks me, about this community... The whole "cost" thing. We, the community, want you to make the best distillate possible. But... If you go above $200, for your rig, you've spent way too much. Someone comes along, with what seems to be a great alternative, and someone has to come along and "nay-say". Only because, it seems, the condenser costs more than most rigs. My whole stainless rig(Boka), along with power controller, cost around $700. My keg, legally sourced, cost $170.00. This is me following the HD guidelines.
Now, my wife and I are about to be moving... Moving to the country. There are two main drains, in our basement. Septic, and washer. Both are in the basement, about chest high. Septic to the front of the house, laundry(grey water), to the rear. This option, would work great for me, for my pot stilling option. My reflux/Boka stuff, I'd have to figure that out.
Its a HOBBY... Depending on how much you love it, cost is relative. I would gladly spend $250 if this condenser is viable. It would allow me to keep running, until I get a drain solution figured out, for my Boka head. Sorry, for the rant...
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Re: Air cooled condenser. I'll NEVER go back to water coolin

Post by bellybuster » Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:07 pm

I knew before I posted that not liking it would be an issue....sorry for not liking it. I will strive to like things from here on..

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