Heat Exchangers for Breweries

Heat exchangers are by far the best way to heat or cool any liquid to a precise temperature. This makes them very useful in a variety of settings including dairy farms, meatworks, swimming pools, wineries, and of course breweries. As we evaluate what a heat exchanger can do in a brewery, you’ll see that it will quickly become an indispensable part of any brewing operation.

Heat exchangers work by using a “heat exchange” or “energy exchange” to heat or cool liquids by using a series of “plates” or “tubes” (depending on the type of heat exchanger). The liquids are separated by the plates (in a plate heat exchanger) or tubes (in a tubular heat exchanger); in a brewery, one side of the pipes carry the beer or cider product (such as wort), and the other side has water or a refrigerant.

brewery equipment heat exchangers

There are several reasons why a brewery might need a heat exchanger: they can be used for cooling, pasteurisation, fermentation, and ageing your beer. In all these processes, heat exchangers can regulate temperatures, so you get a consistent, high-quality product. The liquids that flow in one side never directly interact with the liquid flowing through the other side – they will just be heated or cooled by the plates.

Heat exchangers use food-grade safe stainless steel, ensuring foods and beverages are processed efficiently, hygienically and to any food standards applicable in your industry. It’s worth checking with any supplier that they know what food-grade standards are applicable.
It’s also worth noting that there are significant economic and environmental benefits to using a heat exchanger: they can potentially help decrease energy use and emissions, cut down on water use and reduce how much beer or cider is wasted during processing.

A quality heat exchanger will ensure a quality end product

The most popular heat exchangers for a brewery are plate heat exchangers and tubular heat exchangers (also known as shell and tube heat exchangers). Some people choose a brazed plate heat exchanger, but the former two options are the best, as they can be cleaned, which makes maintenance far more straightforward. Whatever type you choose, what you need is a solution that will make your brewery as efficient as possible: it’s all about finding the best fit in heat exchangers.

Processes in a brewery that may require a heat exchanger (some are not obvious!)

While you can probably already see that heat exchangers have substantial potential benefits for a brewery, it’s worth going through the steps involved in brewing to have a look at this in detail.

Brewing beer starts with steeping malted barley in hot water so that the barley breaks down into sugars. After the liquid is boiled for about an hour, it becomes wort. This is boiled in a kettle for another hour (more or less, depending on what flavour you want).
It’s at this point that a heat exchanger shows its benefits: it can be used to get the wort to the correct temperature and chill your beer to the optimal temperature for your brew. At this key point in the process, you’re far more likely to get your wort cooled in an optimal time, and to a consistently good product with a heat exchanger. The wort can be cooled using cold water or a refrigerant through one side of the heat exchanger.

If wort is not cooled quickly, it can continue to produce dimethyl sulfide, which can taint the flavour of your brew. With an effective heat exchanger, you are also going to reduce bacteria and contaminants – so you are more likely to get a beer or cider that has a consistent taste, as well as ensuring your brew is always safe for consumption.
While there are different methods you can use to chill your beer / wort, a heat exchanger is by far the most efficient. A good-quality heat exchanger can cool your wort in under an hour – sometimes less than 45 minutes, depending on how much beer there is and how much surface area your heat exchanger has. This is dependent on how many plates and how much surface area there is in your heat exchanger.

Wort contains sugar that will be fermented with brewing yeast during the brewing process. Once the wort is cooled, it is ready for fermentation. The hot water gained from this part of the process can then be used in other areas, like heating water coming into the brewery or preheating wort before boiling, while any refrigerants can be used again. Many wort coolers are designed so that the cooling water becomes preheated feedwater for the next batch, thus saving a lot of energy.
Using chilled water or a coolant can also chill fermented beer or cider prior to maturation or bottling. Heat exchangers can also be used in flash pasteurisation, which can be used in both cider and beer production. This involves heating the beer or cider to kill any organisms before cooling it rapidly. This process is a great way to preserve the distinct flavour notes you want with your brew.

The best fit in heat exchangers for breweries

So what heat exchanger is best? This depends on a few factors.
Several different types of heat exchangers could suit, but the best for breweries are either a plate heat exchanger or tubular heat exchanger. (It is possible to use a brazed plate heat exchanger, but this is not as suitable, as it cannot be cleaned and cannot be taken apart.)
A plate heat exchanger can have plates removed or put into it, making it a highly effective and financially savvy decision, while a shell and tube is designed so it can process material with sediment.
With this in mind, what’s best about each type?

1. Plate heat exchanger or tubular?

One of the considerations with heat exchangers used in breweries is that beverages often contain high amounts of sediment. With things like yeast, wort, particles from barley and other sediment, there is a high chance that a heat exchanger can build up sedimentation, which can eventually clog the heat exchanger – but both plate heat exchangers and tubular heat exchangers can be maintained, cleaned and serviced to run efficiently.

A plate heat exchanger can, in many instances, be fine for a brewery. Brewers can take steps to reduce sedimentation, such as whirlpooling the mixture and letting any matter settle before it is processed, or being careful not to bump any of the ingredients prior to pumping them. Plate heat exchangers can be taken apart, with new plates and gaskets being fitted in a few hours (depending on how easy it is to access your heat exchanger!). It’s also worth noting that plate heat exchangers are more compact than shell and tube heat exchangers, which means they take up less floor space. Servicing is also easier with a plate heat exchanger, as they can be taken apart without having much room – while a shell and tube heat exchanger takes a lot more space to service.

Many brewers may prefer a shell and tube or tubular heat exchanger, which is less likely to clog with sediment. Indeed, shell and tube heat exchangers were designed to process liquids with high amounts of sediment – such as beer – so there’s virtually no risk of clogging a shell and tube heat exchanger. They are also easy to clean in place, as you can remove the bonnets on both ends, brush out the tubes and spray them out before reassembling the heat exchanger. For many people, this may be their preferred option. There’s virtually no risk of a shell and tube heat exchanger clogging.

Another consideration is what materials would best suit your needs: titanium plates, or stainless steel? An engineer who is working with you to choose a heat exchanger will be able to tell you what may be more appropriate for your needs. It’s worth noting, once again, that there will be specific requirements to follow to process food-grade products.

2. Knowing what “duty” you need

Many of your needs are solved by knowing what “duty” you need, and getting the right fit based on that.
The “duty” is the exact temperature that you need for each part of the process; as said previously, this is one major benefit of a heat exchanger: you can get the exact temperature you need, regulated to your precise needs – whether you’re operating a microbrewery, craft beer operation, or larger brewery.
As we saw above, there are also different requirements for different parts of the brewing process. Again, when buying a heat exchanger, an engineer will be able to tell you what is the best fit for you.

3. Knowing the health and safety requirements

A quality brewing setup will help you get the best quality beer and cider possible, while paying attention to food and beverage requirements for your country.
You should consider the following:

  • What is safe and sanitary – resistance to fouling should be a consideration, and might determine whether you choose stainless steel or titanium plates
  • Durability: how long your heat exchanger will last – a good quality heat exchanger should last more than 10 years, but some maintenance will probably be required in that time
  • Standards – heat exchangers should be compliant with any food and beverage standards in your country for brewing.

Finally, whatever your choice, accessibility is a major plus point. Maintenance of your heat exchanger can require taking it apart. If you need to do this, accessibility is a key point, and can slow down the process of taking plates and gaskets out for replacement or cleaning. If you can make your heat exchanger accessible for installation and maintenance, it’s usually a quick fix if anything goes wrong. It’s worth noting that this won’t be a regular requirement; it should usually be a few years between each service.

Overall, any drawbacks of maintenance of a heat exchanger are far outweighed by the benefits. You will achieve greater efficiency, and a far better end product, by making a heat exchanger part of your brewing operation. Whether you’re a smaller craft brewery or microbrewery, or a larger operation, you will see the benefits.