Fail of the Week: Exploding Fermentation

It’s no secret that hackers like fermentation, both the process and the end results. I myself have a crock of sauerkraut happily bubbling away in the kitchen right now. Fermentation can lead to tasty endpoints, and the process itself, which basically amounts to controlled rotting, is a fascinating set of biochemical reactions. But done wrong, fermentation can result in injury, as it did at CCC this year when a fermentation vessel exploded.

"It was the one on the left, officer. He did it."
“It was the one on the left, officer. He did it.”

Exactly what happened isn’t really clear, except that Food Hacking Base ran a number of workshops at CCC 2015, several of which involved fermented foods or drinks. A Grolsch-style bottle with a ceramic flip-top was apparently used as a fermentation vessel, but unfortunately the seal was not broken. The bottle found its way to another tent at CCC, this one running an SMD soldering workshop. Carbon dioxide gas built up enough pressure in the bottle to shatter it and send shrapnel flying through the workshop tent. According to a discussion thread on the incident, “people got hurt and need to go to the hospital because glas [sic] particles were stuck in their faces, a throat was cut and an eyelid bleeding.” The explosion was quite energetic, because, “we also found a 20cm long piece of glass that went trough [sic] the ceiling of the tent and propelled for another 4-5 meters afterwards.”

We’ve seen lots of Hackaday projects involving instrumentation and automation of fermentation, including some with really large vessels. The potential for destruction if such a vessel isn’t properly vented is pretty high. At the very least, you’ll be left with a really big mess to clean up. Be careful out there – microbes are not to be trifled with. We don’t want to give you the wrong idea about CCC; this year was incredible as [Elliot Williams] reported during his time there.

Now it’s off to the kitchen to check on my kraut.

[Thanks to Morgan for the tip.]

The Biohacking Movement and Open Source Insulin

In March of 2014, I knew my eight year old daughter was sick. Once borderline overweight, she was now skeletally thin and fading away from us. A pre-dawn ambulance ride to the hospital gave us the devastating news – our daughter had Type 1 diabetes, and would be dependent on insulin injections for the rest of her life.

This news hit me particularly hard. I’ve always been a preparedness-minded kind of guy, and I’ve worked to free myself and my family from as many of the systems of support as possible. As I sat in the dark of the Pediatric ICU watching my daughter slowly come back to us, I contemplated how tied to the medical system I had just become. She was going to need a constant supply of expensive insulin, doled out by a medical insurance system that doesn’t understand that a 90-day supply of life-saving medicine is a joke to a guy who stocks a year supply of toilet paper. Plus I had recently read an apocalyptic novel where a father watches his 12-year old diabetic daughter slip into a coma as the last of her now-unobtainable insulin went bad in an off-grid world. I swore to myself that I’d never let this happen, and set about trying to find ways to make my own insulin, just in case.

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Hacklet 35 – BeagleBone Projects

The Raspberry Pi 2 is just barely a month old, and now that vintage console emulation on this new hardware has been nailed down, it’s just about time for everyone to do real work. You know, recompiling stuff to take advantage of the new CPU, figuring out how to get Android working on the Pi, and all that good stuff that makes the Pi useful.

It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that there’s another board out there that’s just as good in most cases, and in some ways better than the Pi 2. It’s the BeagleBone Black, and for this edition of the Hacklet, we’re focusing on all the cool BeagleBone projects on

lcdSo you have a credit card sized Linux computer and a small, old LCD panel. If it doesn’t have HDMI, VGA or composite input, there’s probably no way of getting this display working, right? Nope. Not when you can make an LCD cape for $10.

[Dennis] had an old digital picture frame from a while back, and decided his BeagleBone needed a display. A few bits of wire and some FPC connectors, and [Dennis] has a custom display for his ‘Bone. It’s better than waiting for that DSI display…

bed[THX1082] is making a bed for his son. This isn’t your usual race car bed, or even a very cool locomotive bed. No, this is a spaceship bed. Is your bed a space ship? No, I didn’t think so.

Most of the work with plywood, MDF, paint, and glue is done, which means the best feature of this bed – a BeagleBone Black with an LCD, buttons, a TV, and some 3D printed parts – is what [THX] is working on right now. He’s even forking a multiplayer networked starship simulator to run in the bed. Is your bed a starship simulator?


Beer. [Deric] has been working on a multi-step fermentation controller using the BeagleBone Black. For good beer you need to control temperatures and time, lest you end up with some terrible swill that I’d probably still drink.

This project controls every aspect of fermentation, from encouraging yeast growth, metabolization of sugars, and flocculation. The plan is to use two circuits – one for heating and one for cooling – and a pair of temperature sensors to ensure the beer is fermenting correctly.

If you’re looking for more BeagleBone Projects, there’s an entire list of them over on with GLaDOs Glasses, Flight Computers, and Computer Vision.

Goldilocks Climate Box Keeps Lager Fermentation Environment Just Right

September was warmish in many places around the world including [Ole]’s native Denmark. But that did not stop him from brewing lager flavored with plums from his own garden, and neither did his indifference to lagers in general.

Lager fermentation requires a consistent, low temperature. While many homebrewers might modify an electric refrigerator, [Ole] wasn’t interested in the cost of running a second one just for brewing beer. Instead, he built a climate box to work with the cool temperature in his garage. Starting with scrap wood from other projects, he lined the walls with polystyrene and put a layer of wood on the floor to help support the fermentation bucket.

Maintaining a consistent temperature in the box called for both heating and cooling. He pulled the Peltier from a 12V cooler meant to run off a car’s cigarette lighter, and used a spare ceramic heater that was lying around in case his primary reptile warmer went on the fritz.

An Arduino and a custom shield drive separate PID controllers for the Peltier and the heater. The shield has a temperature probe, and he extended the USB outside the climate box so the PIDs can be adjusted without disturbing the inside temperature. The schematic, board file, and code are all available in a zip you can get from his post.

The Peltier couldn’t quite compensate for the overly warm weather and the heat caused by the fermentation, but it was stable enough to produce a nice, plum-flavored lager he has dubbed Lektor Blom­mes malt­bol­che, which is a triple Danish pun he explains in the write-up.

Keep an Eye on Your Fermenting Beer with BrewMonitor

The art of brewing beer is as old as civilization itself. Many people enjoy brewing their own beer at home. Numerous steps must be taken before you can take a swig, but fermentation is one of the most critical. [Martin Kennedy] took up the hobby with his friends, and wanted a convenient way to monitor the fermentation temperature remotely. He started working on the BrewMonitor, a cloud-based homebrewing controller powered by an Arduino clone.

His goal was to create something cheap, convenient, and easy to set up. Traditional fermentation monitoring equipment is very expensive. The typical open-source alternative will set you back 80 euros (roughly $101), using the Arduino-sensor with a Raspberry Pi gateway via the BrewPi webserver. [Martin] did not want to go through the hassle of viewing BrewPi remotely, since it requires a home network and all of the configuration that would entail. Instead, he coupled an Arduino clone with a DS18B20 temperature sensor while using an ESP8266 module for wireless communication, all for less than 18 euros ($23). This connects to a simple webpage based on with a PHP backend (Laravel with RESTful API), a MySQL database, and an AngularJS frontend to display the graph. Once the sensor is placed into the fermenter bucket’s thermowell, the temperature is transmitted once a minute to the REST API. You can see the temperature over time (in Celsius). The design files are available on GitHub.

[Martin] would like to expand the functionality of BrewMonitor, such as adding the ability to adjust the temperature remotely by controlling a heater or fridge, and lowering its cost by single boarding it. Since the information is stored on the cloud, upgrading the system is much easier than using a separate gateway device. He doesn’t rule out crowdfunding campaigns for the future. We would like to see this developed further, since different yeast species and beer styles require very stringent conditions, especially during the weeks-long fermentation process; a 5-degree Celsius difference can ruin an entire brew! Cloud-based temperature adjustment seems like the next big goal for BrewMonitor. DIY brewers salute you, [Martin]!

[via Dangerous Prototypes]


BrewPi is a Raspberry Pi in charge of beer fermentation

Take a look at BrewPi, a fermentation controller made with a Raspberry Pi. The project hacks control of a refrigerator and a light bulb into the pervue of a Raspberry Pi board. The RPi itself brings network connectivity to the mix. What you end up with is an already highly configurable fermentation system which is perched to receive even more features moving forward.

The man behind the system is [Elco Jacobs]. You may remember his name from the UberFridge project. That was a router-based fermentation controller. This keeps the same great hardware as well as online graphing and control features such as setting plot points for ramping temperature up and down. For now there’s also an Arduino being used which takes care of the hardware switching via json packets received from the RPi. But now that he’s worked out most of the bugs it should be fairly painless to dump the Arduino and build a proper RPi shield for this purpose.

Brewing beer with LEGO

[Matt] sent in a set of YouTube videos walking us through his LEGO Mindstorms controlled brewery.

[Matt] is using a RIMS brewing setup that recirculates and heats the mash to extract more starch from the grain. This results in a Maillard reaction in the mash and creates a richer, maltier flavor.

To control his RIMS setup, [Matt] is using a LEGO Mindstorms brick with a few LEGO temperature sensors attached to his plumbing. The LEGO provides all the temperature and pump control for a proper RIMS setup, perfect for the homebrewer who doesn’t want to bother with an Arduino or other microcontroller board.

As a small aside, the astute Hackaday reader will note our beer hacks category is woefully underpopulated. It’s nearly summer now and the perfect time to start brewing. If you’ve got a beer hack, be sure to send it in.

After the break you can see all of [Matt]’s RIMS/LEGO brewery videos, or you can check out his YouTube channel.

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