In designing my all grain setup, I decided to go the route of the Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS). The Heat Exchanger Recirculating Mash System (HERMS) seems like the best route for most brewers, but it’s hard to beat a RIMS if the main objective is automation because RIMS is doesn’t suffer the lag time that a HERMS does. I’m also trying to create a configuration that excludes the hot liquor tank and uses a cold water supply. For sparging, this will require single pass heating, so I’ll need a high power element to accomplish acceptable sparge rates.
Gas fired systems seem interesting, but electric is simpler and, in my hands, probably safer. I haven’t seen any home brewer use anything but home water heater elements. A common problem discussed in the forums is galvanic corrosion of components of the heating elements. Even the higher end elements made of corrosion-resistant alloys (Incoloy) have carbon steel threaded bases that are reported to corrode. Most brewers seem to deal with this either by vigilantly keeping the element dry when not in use or by using a sacrificial anode.
The folks at The Electric Brewery advocated the former method, but recently updated their website to reflect new Camco heating elements that have stainless steel bases. There are also a few other sites that have stainless heating elements in 304/316 stainless. This is now the way to go. I couldn’t find these elements when I was building my RIMS, so I decided to try something I didn’t see in the forums.
I was contemplating how to deal with the problem on Thanksgiving. I’d just received an infrared cooker as a gift and had seasoned it the night before per the instructions. I’m not stranger to seasoning cookwear. It’s a great process that polymerizes vegetable oils onto the surfaces of your cookwear using low heat. The resulting layer of “seasoning” protects iron cookwear from corrosion. While drinking a beer and cooking a turkey, I wondered if the same would be possible with a RIMS heating element.
The next day, I prepared two heating elements. I had a smaller element that I was preparing to replace the thermoelectric chips in my cabinet build, which turned out to be underpowered. This element is not stainless steel. The larger element is a 5400 W Camco, which is Incoloy. I drilled 1-1/4″ holes in two cover plates for cylindrical conduit boxes, placed the elements through, and secured them tightly in place using 1″ to 1-1/4″ NPT stainless bushings. I coated the heating elements from tip to base with peanut oil and tried to give the electrical terminals a little protection with some aluminum foil, which I knew would be of limited utility. I put them in the oven and cooked them at 450 degF for about an hour.
The seasoning coated the elements and their bases reasonably well. This is appreciable as an amber coating on the elements and their bases in both photographs below.
As expected, the plastic protection surrounding the terminals melted.
This was easily fixed with a little solder between the terminal poles and the screw terminals surrounded with some electrical tape.
I’m glad to know that if it rusts or has a shortened lifespan from this process that I’ll be able to swap it out for a fully stainless version, but I’ve already gone through the trouble and think my elements. We’ll see how it goes.