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Carbonating at Home with Improvised Equipment and Soda Fountains Carbonating at Home with Improvised Equipment and Soda Fountains From tap water to seltzer in about a minute, at next to no cost. Why doesn t everybody have this? Have a comment or question on my home carbonation technique? Did you actually build one of these after reading this? Email me at: [email protected] Richard J.
Kinch Back to Home page Updated as of November, 2015. I wrote the first edition in 2002. You have arrived at One particularly useful Web site -- New York Times Carbonating tap water to make seltzer is easy, fast, and absurdly inexpensive with my improvised apparatus. All that is required is to place CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas in agitated contact with chilled water for a few seconds. In this essay, I ll show you how it is done with easy-to-find parts and common PET (polyethylene terephthalate, sometimes called PETE) soda bottles. I ll also explain the kinetic chemistry of why it works so well.
And in the second half of this essay, I ll explain how I progressed from this improvised apparatus to installing a complete soda fountain in my home. The Gas Supply: Tank and Regulator The essential ingredient is a supply of CO2 under pressure. CO2 is sold commercially in steel tanks of various sizes. It is actually a very inexpensive material, considering the special handling it requires. In my area you can refill a 20-pound tank for about $18, which will make many hundreds of gallons of carbonated beverages.
Larger tanks are even cheaper per pound. Many soft-drink or beer distributors will swap your empty CO2 tank for a full tank at even lower cost, since they expect to make their profit on the other products that just use CO2 for propulsion. You shouldn t have to invest more than $75 to own such a swappable tank with a current inspection, and many dealers even prefer to just charge you a smaller refundable deposit to borrow one. A 20-pound tank is so called not because it weighs 20 lbs, but because it contains 20 lbs of CO2 in gas-over-liquid form (aka liquid-under-own-vapor). The empty steel tank and valve weight about 30 lbs (the tare weight ), so the total filled weight is a hefty 50 lbs or so. I prefer this size tank because it is the largest that is still possible for me to carry by hand, and its 30-inch height also just fits under the counter in the kitchen.
Tanks smaller than the 20-pound size do cost a bit less, and they re easier to lug around, but you will have to refill more often at a slightly greater cost per unit of CO2. On the other hand, the giant 50-pound tank weighs about 160 lbs when full, making it more of a piece of heavy equipment than a gadget. The actual weight of my 20 lb tank on one occasion was 30.4 lbs (13.8 kg) empty and 46.3 lbs (21.0 kg) full.
Apparently the 20 lbs of payload is either a nominal figure, or I wasn t getting a complete fill from the supplier. The regulator adds about 3 lbs, if you re trying to weigh a connected tank. Tanks also vary slightly in size and weight depending on their construction. The tank alone is not enough to supply the gas. One must attach a regulator to reduce the gas pressure inside the tank to a controlled, usable, low pressure.
This is the top of the CO2 tank and regulator, underneath the kitchen counter in a corner of a cabinet. The low-pressure outlet hose (exiting the bottom of the regulator at the bottom left) runs along the back of the cabinet, then through a hole behind the refrigerator, and then up to the wall where the shutoff is mounted. The knob at the top right is for the tank valve. The lever at the extreme left adjust the outlet pressure of the regulator. The left gauge reads the outlet (low) pressure, and the right gauge the tank (high) pressure. The high pressure gauge monitors the contents of the tank, while the low pressure gauge monitors the delivery of low-pressure gas.
The least expensive regulators have no gauges. Twenty pounds of CO2 carbonates a lot of water. We consume several liters per day in our household, and one tank lasts us for several years!
The 20 pounds of CO2 in my full tank yields over 1000 liters of carbonated water at an extremely fizzy 4 volumes. Since my techniques produce an extra-biting-fizzy result (the water is both chilled and pressurized while the gas is dissolved), and the gas in the head space of the bottle at the end of the process is vented, the yield can be somewhat less. But the process is so cheap that I haven t bothered to precisely measure it!
CO2 expense is no more than a few cents per 2- or 3-liter bottle. Another source of gas is CO2 fire extinguishers, which are made typically from a 20 lb tank, except painted red and fitted with an extinguisher squeeze-valve and horn. On several occasions I have bought these extinguishers at plant-closing auctions for $1 each, and adapted the high-side of my regulator to connect to the extinguisher valve. When empty, the gas dealer can then remove the squeeze-valve and extinguisher horn and install a standard twist valve top on the tank.
Tanks should also be inspected internally and subjected to a hydrostatic pressure test after some years, so if you are not swapping tanks to refill, you should make sure your dealer is inspecting the tanks on the right schedule. Physical Properties of CO2 Relevant to Carbonation Density Gas 0.1234 lb/cu-ft 32 deg F, 1 atm 1.98 grams/liter 0.1146 lb/cu-ft 77 deg F, 1 atm 1.84 grams/liter Solid 1.562 kg/liter Sublimating at 1 atm Liquid 1.032 kg/liter 286 psi, -4 deg F 0.762 kg/liter High-pressure cylinder, 70 deg F Expansion 560 to 1 -4 deg F liquid to 77 deg F gas 385 to 1 70 deg F liquid to 32 deg F gas Solubility in water 1.79 (vol/vol) at 32 deg F, 1 atm Henry s law constant (Inverted to express molar solubility) 0.117 mol/liter-atm at 32 deg F = 1.72 volumes/atm =? 0.034 mol/kg-bar ( NIST) Latent heat of sublimation 246 BTU/lb (dry ice to vapor at -78.5 deg C) = 571 kJ/kg = 0.159 KWH/kg Typical heat to vaporize and superheat tanked liquid CO2 to warm gas 135 BTU/lb (liquid to vapor at 70 deg F) = 313 kJ/kg = 0.0685 KWH/kg Molecular weight 44.010 g/mol Sublimation temperature at 1 atm -78.5 deg C = -109.3 deg F Commercial/industrial names and codes CAS 124-38-9 UN1013 (gas) UN2187 (refrigerated liquid) UN1845 (solid) Carbonic anhydride Dry Ice Dricold (UK) The slightest leak, especially ahead of the regulator where the high pressure exists, will bleed your entire CO2 supply in a matter of days, or less. CO2 tanks and regulators use a unique flat nipple fitting (CGA 320, 0.825-14NGO-RH-EXT, flat nipple) and washer to connect to each other, instead of the usual inert-gas nipple (CGA 580, 0.965-14NGO-RH-INT, such as for argon, nitrogen, or helium). The flat nipple squeezes against the mating tank outlet, being compressed by a large captive nut, with a fiber or plastic washer in between the flat faces. You must firmly attach the regulator nut with a new washer to assure a leak-free fit.
Each time the tank is filled, the supplier should give you a new washer for the regulator connection. I find it so difficult to find high-pressure leaks that I have taken to disconnecting the low-pressure side and dunking the entire tank and regulator together into my swimming pool to look for bubbles. The ordinary soap-bubble method works fine to find leaks on the low-pressure side. I actually have two of these 20-pound tanks. This assures a continuous supply; when one tank empties, I can have it out to be filled while using the other. I use an adjustable regulator that I have set to deliver about 45 or 50 psi.
CO2 regulators are available for about $50 from soft-drink distributors, welding gas suppliers, or homebrew hobby suppliers (see, for example, the page at http://www.kegworks.com). There are special regulators made just for CO2, and fixed-pressure CO2 regulators, but these seem to be less rugged than good-quality inert-gas regulators, which are also suitable at the low flow rates needed for carbonation (although an inert-gas regulator will need to have its nipple switched for a CO2 fitting). I connect the CO2 gas delivered by the regulator to 1/4 inch (ID) flexible, braided polyethylene tubing, which is rated for suitable working pressure. Unbraided 1/4 inch vinyl tubing will burst at low pressures, especially if it gets warm. I learned this the hard way one day when I had the supply line running behind the stove; suddenly there was a bang and hissing of gas.
The working pressure of the unbraided tubing was reduced by the heat to the point where it burst under only 50 psi. After that experience I switched to braided tubing and made sure that it did not run close to any sources of heat. But I still use unbraided tubing for the final section to the bottle, as shown in the photos below, since it is flexible and under low pressure for short times. The Shutoff and Gauge The gas delivery tubing runs from a kitchen cabinet holding the tank and regulator to a wall-mounted ball-valve for shutoff, and a low-pressure gauge for monitoring.
While not strictly necessary, without a separate shutoff, you have to use the regulator or tank valve to stop the flow, which is very inconvenient and somewhat wasteful of gas. The shutoff and gauge. The shutoff provides control over the carbonation process, while the gauge provides measurement.
The ball valve requires only a quick 1/4 turn of the handle for full on or off. The tee and gauge are optional, but help in monitoring the carbonation process and impressing house-guests. The female quick-connect allows easy selection of final hose and cap. All fittings are 1/4 inch brass NPT, except the ball valve which is 3/8 inch (only because 1/4 inch ball valves are hard to find, but when I made this in the 1980s we didn t have the Web to help locate such things). Teflon tape in the threads prevents leaks. Copper pipe straps across the ball valve shoulders hold the whole assembly firmly against the wood plate, which in turn is screwed to the kitchen backsplash.
The quick-connects are common air fittings available in auto parts and hardware retailers. This part of the apparatus is all that is normally visible in the kitchen, which is a good thing, because it is about all my wife will tolerate from her mad-scientist husband in that regard. I enjoy showing it off to guests, but in 20 years of doing this, I don t seem to have convinced anyone else to actually build something like it. The gauge on the shutoff panel allows me to monitor the performance of the regulator and to have a rough idea of the gas flow and degree of CO2 saturation in the water.
My latest CO2 regulator is actually made for MIG welding (these are the least expensive I ve found) and has an orifice restricter to limit flow rates, which requires that I let the bottle pressure catch up sometimes when carbonating, as indicated by the gauge. The gauge is connected after the shutoff valve, so it measures the pressure in the bottle and not the regulated supply pressure when the valve is closed. The gauge is also not strictly necessary. I use a quick-connect air fitting at the output of the shutoff.
This allows me to attach various hoses and caps for different bottle sizes. It also allows me to rinse the open hoses if they get a bit of backflow from carbonating a beverage other than plain water. The Bulkhead Cap So far everything has been ordinary parts from a gas supplier and the hardware store, but the final cap fitting to the soft drink bottle is improvised from unusual parts, because there doesn t seem to be any other way to do it. While I ve gone through several designs to get the 1/4 inch hose fitted to the plastic soda bottle cap, let me first describe the easiest and best method that doesn t require much fabrication. While you might expect to use the common threaded fittings for tubing available at the hardware store, those use tapered pipe threads, not straight threads; thus you cannot use them with a nut to make a bulkhead fitting. The solution is to use a clamp-in tire valve from the auto parts store.
This provides a straight-threaded, stainless steel fitting with the right dimensions and shape to clamp into a hole in a bottle cap, and to insert into the 1/4 inch gas delivery hose. The parts in a clamp-in tire valve kit. This is a Camel brand part number 30-463, sold in many retail auto parts stores such as Pep Boys Auto & Tire for a few dollars. Camel makes at least one other size, and other manufacturers make similar items, such as the Milton 409.
This is the only common source for a bulkhead fitting I ve ever discovered; otherwise you have to look for fittings for laboratory tubing. I ve removed the valve stem (the item in the middle with the red band) using the stem tool on the right, leaving the fitting fully open for the passage of gas. Only the valve body, nut, and washer are needed; the screw cap, stem, and rubber washers are discarded. You might wonder whether you can t just leave the valve stem in place in the valve, and use a tire chuck on the gas supply hose to fill the bottle with pressurized CO2. This does not work because the process requires continuous flow of CO2 into the bottle via an open connection.
Carbonating a 2-liter bottle requires flowing in about 8 liters of CO2. Puffing up the bottle from a tire chuck through a stem valve provides only an intermittent flow of CO2 that requires many iterations to inject the proper amount of gas. Holding the chuck continuously against the valve is a difficult manipulation, especially while shaking the bottle, and tends to leak a lot of gas.
There are bottle cap adapters incorporating a valved, continuous connection offered in home brewing catalogs. However they can t match the price and quality of this simple tire valve trick. Here is the tire valve body serving as a bulkhead fitting through a bottle cap from a 2-liter plastic soda bottle. A hole is first drilled through the center of the plastic cap, the valve inserted and clamped with the nut, and the hose attached with a hose clamp. You do not need need a washer for a gas-tight fit, since the bottle cap should have a pliable plastic gasket inside that will seal under the pressure of the tightened nut. This gives a tight connection from the gas supply to the interior of the bottle.
The other end of the hose is fitted with the male quick-connect for connection to the shutoff and for easier cleaning. The brewing and soft-drink industry have their own quick-connects for fluid lines, but I prefer the easier-to-find air fittings. Note that the only components that contact the liquid beverage are the bottle, bottle cap, and the stainless steel fitting.
Most brass is an alloy that contains a few percent of lead for machinability. Mild carbonic acid (carbonated water) does corrode brass when left in contact for long periods. I don t myself have the slightest concern that one would be exposed to any lead from using brass in this way, but if you like to be certain, then the stainless steel fitting is the thing to have. Commercial soft drink apparatus is all stainless steel and plastic wherever it contacts carbonated beverages; this is important because the slightly-acidic soda is in constant contact with the metal. Here is an earlier bulkhead fitting I designed using a 1/4 x 1 inch brass screw, brass nut, and fiber washer.
This cap is for the larger 3-liter bottle. I drilled a 1/16 inch hole axially through the length of the screw for the gas passage. The head of the screw is on the inside of the cap, with the threads protruding outside. I wrapped several turns of teflon tape around the threads to fill them and provide a tight connection to the inside of the flat hose. You have to be careful to keep the screw snug, since the tubing wants to twist off along the threads. This design works, and I ve used this specimen for years, but the tire valve is better.
But see the section Other Approaches at the end of this page for my idea to improve this design. I prefer to use the 3-liter bottles because they have a much larger cap and neck which makes the bulkhead fitting easier to mount. The neck of the bottle is also big enough to permit dropping in icemaker ice cubes.
This is the head of the 1/4 x 1-inch screw inside a 3-liter bottle cap. A 1/16-inch hole is drilled through the center axis of the screw. The torn plastic around the screw head is the plastic gasket inside the bottle cap, punctured for the bulkhead fitting, which should be left in place to make a good seal on the neck of the bottle, but which doesn t need to be under the bulkhead fitting (that is, it could be trimmed away from the screw head instead of being ragged here).
The Carbonation-in-a-Bottle Process and Its Economics To carbonate a bottle of water, you must pre-chill the water first, because the solubility of CO2 in water is greatly increased by both lowering the temperature ( Le Chatelier s principle), and by raising the pressure of the CO2 gas ( Henry s law). Lukewarm water or low pressure CO2 gas will saturate with much less carbonation, so that the result is flat. In short, CO2 is easy to dissolve into water, but only up to an amount determined by pressure and temperature. You cannot insert or keep CO2 in solution above the concentrations dictated by pressure and temperature, and if you lower the pressure or raise the temperature, you may have excess CO2 that will effervesce back out of the beverage (which is, after all, the charm of it all). To pre-chill, you can refrigerate the water, or (if you have the 3-liter bottle with the large neck) drop ice cubes in through the neck (as shown in the photo below).
I like to chill in the refrigerator and then add a few ounces of ice to bring the water down the rest of the way to 32 deg F. Or, for a trick that works with any size PET bottle, freeze a small portion of water beforehand in the bottle horizontally, whack the frozen bottle on
Clean Your Drains With Baking Soda and Vinegar - Surprise ...
More Remember when I was all, “You crazy kids. Don’t you ever use baking soda and vinegar together in cleaning. It’s just silly. Blah blah blah.” Carbonating tap water to make seltzer is easy, fast, and absurdly inexpensive with my improvised apparatus. All that is required is to place CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas. How big do you need? Fire safes are not that expensive until you move up into storing rifles and even then I have seen some pretty good buys lately under $400 here is.
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