Friday, February 9, 2007

Is It Time To Make Your Own Ethanol?

Most days, we get in our vehicles, turn their ignitions, put them in gear and drive off on our merry way. If we think about fuel it’s probably only because we might need to put some in the tank and other than the price, we hardly pay much attention to what it is exactly that we’re pumping.
But there’s a little sticker on many pumps that points out that there’s 10 percent ethanol in the gasoline. It might easily go unnoticed.
Ethanol is getting a lot of attention these days from many in the automotive industry. Easily made from crops like corn, environmentally friendlier when it comes to putting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and politically less vulnerable to foreign economies, the age-old fuel is finding new converts everywhere.
Turns out that some visionary dreamers have had it up on their radar for awhile.
You could say that there are two tracks that are shaping the pursuit of ethanol – environmental and financial. Sometimes they intersect and sometimes they are heading in different directions.
I recently came across an offer to build my own ethanol still. With it I would purportedly be able to easily produce enough ethanol to run my vehicle all the time at a cost of around $1 per gallon.
It’s called a still because you make it essentially the same way you make moonshine. In fact, ethanol is really ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol that has been denatured (purposely made poisonous) so that it unfit for human consumption.
Other than the denatured part of the process, you could technically use ethanol made from a still like this to stock the liquor cabinet.
But according to the offer, the still produces a refined triple-distilled 180 proof ethanol that is perfect for using in the many flex-fuel vehicles being manufactured today. The promoters do not recommend drinking the product.
The still was designed by Robert Warren, former founding director of the California Alcohol Fuel Producers Association (CAPFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting alternatives to using petroleum fuels.
Now deceased, Mr. Warren’s interest in designing devices to easily produce ethanol pre-dates the current trend by many years. His research on ethanol spanned 25 years. His family continues to offer blueprints for the still.
The materials for building the still will cost upwards of $500 and the blueprints cost $30. Once it’s up and running, the still can produce about 5 gallons of fuel per hour.
So you’ll have to eventually make and use about 500 gallons to start seeing some positive financial results from the project.
I suppose the satisfaction one might get from depriving the big petroleum manufacturers of some money is a just reward for the effort of building this device. Even more rewarding might be the benefit to the environment.
Carbon dioxide released from burning ethanol that’s produced this way essentially returns the same amount of CO2 to the atmosphere as was pulled from the atmosphere by the biomass of plants used to produced the ethanol.
Makes one wonder why we’ve waited so long to make more use of ethanol.

1 comment:

reallybadreverb said...

If I had the $500, I'd give this a shot. The short-term financial expenditure would be far outweighed by the long-term environmental benefit and eventual financial gain.

I fill my car with 17 gallons of gas roughly once a week (maybe closer to every 6 days). At that rate, within roughly half a year I would have saved the amount of my initial investment. That would certainly satisfy most Americans' need for instant gratification (me included).