No regrets: Brewery switches from steam to thermal fluid
Published: October 07, 2021
In 2015, when business was improving but the original process equipment was reaching the end of its useful life, Rebellion Beer Company bucked the trend and, with impartial advice from heat transfer specialist Fulton, replaced their aging steam boiler with a thermal fluid system. Now, six years later, Rebellion’s Mark Gloyens explains how brewery life has coped with the change. PWE reports.
Anyone who runs a brewery will tell you how critical the boiling phase of the brewing process is; and when Rebellion made its way from steam to thermal, they were warned that they would never be able to get that clean taste from a steam-powered, rolling cooker.
“Switching from steam to thermal was a leap of faith for us, but the warnings from other breweries have proven to be wrong!” Says Mark Gloyens of the Rebellion Beer Company. “Product quality has improved because we now have more control over the wort boiling temperature than ever before. We get very good cooking quality that is controllable and we have achieved everything we wanted from switching from steam to thermal fluid. “
Thanks to the control and flexibility that the Rebellion thermal system offers, the brewery has been able to produce different batch sizes as needed. This allowed them to process R&D batches until recently and was especially useful during the pandemic when throughput was initially decimated because pubs had to close. However, when the lockdowns came and went, Rebellion successfully turned its business around and began selling direct to the consumer through a home delivery service, which meant throughput returned to pre-pandemic levels very quickly, currently two to three batches per day each boil lasting up to 90 minutes.
“The nice thing about the thermal fluid installation is its flexibility and the ability to adapt our changing brewing strategies very easily,” says Gloyens.
“In the past we would have made two brews a day to get the maximum output, but because of its flexibility we can now turn off the thermal fluid heater for one day a week to thoroughly clean the brewhouse and increase the output to three brews a day for the rest of the week. Something that would have been very difficult to achieve with steam. “
In addition to control and flexibility, there are many other factors that have worked well for the Rebellion Beer Company, as Gloyens explains: “A steam boiler is essentially a pressure vessel and regulations dictate that pressurized systems must undergo an annual insurance check. This inspection often took the boiler out of service and meant our brewing processes were down for a day or more, with the interruption from the downtime possibly being felt several days later. Also, even with the best water treatment program, steam under pressure can be very corrosive, creating problems with steam traps, flanges, and piping that we always seemed to be servicing and therefore always had additional potential for process downtime.
“Since thermal is more of a closed loop system, we haven’t seen the same problems with leaking seals, flanges, etc., which not only makes the entire installation look but also feels so much more reliable than steam.” Mark Gloyens quantifies the annual cost savings at maintenance of a steam system – including maintenance, water treatment, chemical dosing, etc. – compared to thermal fluid, Mark Gloyens estimates that the thermal fluid system is much lower and could be at least half that of the previous boiler plant. And six years later, Gloyens estimates that the savings compared to keeping the old steam system – and although installing the thermal fluid was a more expensive investment at first – certainly added a substantial return on investment, since the investment is now fully paid for.
To add flexibility to the thermal fluid system, Gloyens has also announced that Rebellion is about to develop the existing brewhouse line to build a small batch development brewery and yeast propagation facility on the site. “It was so easy to get an extension. We were just able to tap into the existing thermal fluid line and use the system for another task without affecting everything else, ”says Markus.
The new development line is capable of brewing five hectoliters (500 liter) batches and allows processing of development or commercial batches – such as stout or single batches that may not appeal to the general consumer – without adding a full 4000 liters of broth.
In summary, Mark Gloyens says whenever he is asked if Rebellion is happy with the Fulton thermal fluid installation, he simply tells them to check it out because it speaks for itself. “It’s just a clean, compact installation that is relatively maintenance-free and extremely flexible”.
And when he is asked for his advice, when he thinks about a new brewhouse or a complete overhaul of an existing one; and maybe sit on the fence when it comes to considering steam versus thermal? He explains: “You have to consult the experts, of course, as we did at Fulton over six years ago. They were completely unbiased because they make both vapor and thermal fluid solutions.
“But for the Rebellion Beer Company, a thermal fluid solution was child’s play. It’s cheaper, more reliable, relatively maintenance-free, and a much cleaner, more compact system that still provides the quality of heating needed for brewing. It’s just a better way of doing it. “