Beer cans with a high-tech chill

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Here we are, 4 1/2 months into the year 2001, and I gotta tell you, I am not much impressed by this so-called 21st century.

For one thing, where are those jetpacks we were promised?

I figured we’d be flying all over town by now, leap-frogging over SEPTA buses and double-parking on Billy Penn’s hat. Instead, we’re stuck in traffic on Chestnut Street, still waiting for some bonehead to turn right on red.

And another thing: Whatever happened to holograms?

Jeez, it’s enough to make you reach for a cold one. . .and on that note, I’m pleased to report that the first solid evidence of 21st century technology is on the horizon.

I’m referring to self-chilling beer cans.

Like something straight out of “Star Trek,” these high-tech babies solve possibly the most troublesome problem confronting mankind today.

Warm beer. It is a beastly pox, an incurable handicap that has literally crippled generations of our intemperate species.

OK, yeah, there’s ice.

And most of us have mastered the art of opening (if not closing) the refrigerator door.

But the concept of a self-chilling beer can is so advanced, so “Next Generation,” I can hardly contain myself.

The can reduces its temperature by an astounding 40 degrees in just 5 minutes. Not even a stainless-steel Sub-Zero can do that.

It’s not just the end of waiting. We’re talking the end of beer coolers. No more lugging that heavy sucker out to the softball field. An end to squeaky styrofoam ice chests.

The thingie was developed by Crown Cork & Seal, the Northeast Philadelphia firm that is the world’s largest maker of beer and soda cans. Using an invention by Tempra Technology of Bradenton, Fla., Crown is producing test cans this summer for an unnamed European brewer.

The bigs at Crown and Tempra hope the cans are in the hands of Americans by next year.

“It is about time,” said Dan Abramowicz, executive veep of corporate technologies at Crown’s R&D division. “People have been trying for over a decade to develop a container like this. ”

According to Tempra President Barney Guarino, over the years, inventors have submitted close to 10,000 patents for a self-chilling can. Most of them use chemicals or pressurized gas, like freon. One uses ammonium nitrate, the fertilizing compound that Timothy McVeigh employed with devastating consequences.

Environmentalists don’t like the idea of those chemicals being released into the air. And beer drinkers – even thirsty ones – aren’t terribly enthused about sucking down explosives.

The Crown/Tempra container, called the I.C. Can, works on the same principle as a heat pump. Rather than externally cooling the liquid, it uses evaporation to remove its heat.

Joe Sixpack ain’t a science nerd, but the invention seems pretty basic. Here’s how it works, as reported in the Bradenton Herald:

The 16-ounce can contains a vacuum chamber coated with gelled water. When the base is twisted, a seal is broken that exposes the gel to a nontoxic water-absorbing substance.

As the water evaporates, it pulls heat from the beverage. The heat is then absorbed by vinegar salt in a separate chamber.

The beer temperature drops 20 degrees in the first minute, and continues cooling another 20 degrees in the next three minutes. The bottom temp is somewhere in the mid-30 degrees.

Abramowicz said Crown has been working with Tempra for two years to develop a workable product. “We’re completely comfortable with the design,” he said. “The only question is consumer acceptance. Are we talking about hundreds of millions of cans, or billions of cans. The estimates range all over the map. ”

When I told fellow beer drinkers about the can, they all loved it. “Finally, a space-age invention that we can actually use,” one Bud drinker told me. “This is better than Tang. ”

Naturally, you’ll have to pay for the convenience. Neither Crown nor Tempra is saying how much, but my guess is an I.C. Can will cost 50 cents to a buck more than a standard can. Look for high-end factory brews like Heineken and Michelob to be among the first.

Said Guarino: “We’re not planning to eliminate the refrigerator or the ice chest, but the I.C. Can goes where they can’t. It’s completely portable. ”

Friends, is there any higher calling than making it easier to drink our beer? This is one of those seminal advances that mark human evolution. The wheel. The combustible engine. Penicillin. The microchip.

The self-cooling beer can.

Now, where’s my bleepin’ jetpack?

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Pyramid 5000-Year Ale.

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