Make Ethanol in Your Own Backyard

May 09, 2008 by Lisa Zyga weblog
MicroFueler
E-Fuel says the MicroFueler could produce ethanol for less than a dollar per gallon.

A Silicon Valley start-up called E-Fuel is showing exactly how ethanol can live up to its name as "the people´s fuel." The company recently announced that it will soon start selling a home ethanol system, the E-Fuel 100 MicoFueler, which will allow anyone to make ethanol from sugar, water, yeast, and electricity in their own backyard.

The MicroFueler, which is about the size of a gas station pump, will sell for $9,995 and start shipping late in 2008. E-Fuel´s founders Floyd Butterfield and Thomas Quinn expect that government incentives for alternative fuels will reduce the initial investment by up to $5,000.

The MicroFueler uses sugar as the main fuel source, which is mixed with a time-release yeast the company has developed. E-Fuel explains that it takes about 10-14 pounds of sugar to make one gallon of ethanol. When using store-bought sugar, which costs about 20 cents per pound in the US, plus the cost of electricity, the cost to produce a gallon of ethanol would be roughly equivalent to today´s gas prices in the US.

However, Butterfield and Quinn note that inedible sugar can be bought from Mexico for about 2.5 cents per pound under the North American Free Trade Agreement effective this past January. Then it could cost as little as a dollar a gallon to produce ethanol with the MicroFueler. Quinn also noted that he´s used leftover alcohol as an alternative feedstock to sugar, and the only cost is for the electricity.

"It´s going to cause havoc in the market and cause great financial stress in the oil industry," Quinn told The New York Times.

Previously, distilling ethanol has required large pieces of equipment and questionable efficiency. But E-Fuel says that it has developed technology such as a new membrane distiller that can separate water from alcohol at lower temperatures than in conventional ethanol refining, reducing cost and complexity. The machine can fill its 35-gallon tank through fermentation in about a week, it doesn´t produce odors, and the water byproduct is potable. Further, the company estimates that burning a gallon of ethanol made by the MicroFueler will let off just 12% of the carbon that a gallon of gasoline emits.

To brew ethanol at home, property owners in the US must obtain permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Currently, however, it´s illegal in the US to run a conventional vehicle on 100% ethanol - but E-Fuel is hoping that regulators will certify all-ethanol cars if their system becomes popular.

E-Fuel plans to release the machine internationally, with production in China and the UK, in addition to the US. The company is also working on a commercial version and variations that will use different feedstocks besides sugar.

via: The New York Times and Popular Mechanics

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User comments : 24

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nano999
3.3 / 5 (8) May 09, 2008
I have some serious doubts about this.
Kato77
2.7 / 5 (6) May 09, 2008
I wonder if they remind people to get the appropriate paper work done. Even distilling for fuel requires the proper authorization.
holoman
3 / 5 (7) May 09, 2008
BIG OIL WILL NEVER ALLOW THIS TO PASS !
earls
3.8 / 5 (5) May 09, 2008
I'm with nano999, too many loose ends and hidden costs.

I also seem to remember reading an article on the net in the past where they (state or federal government) shut a farmer down from making biofuel because he wasn't paying "gas tax" on it to run his vehicles.
Amy_Steri
5 / 5 (6) May 09, 2008
Let me get this straight...you only save money if you get the sugar from Mexico, and it takes an average of 12 pounds per gallon. So, if you fill up 2-3 times a month, you'd be shipping nearly 500 pounds of sugar a month. How is this a good idea for the economy or the environment?
nano999
3.8 / 5 (4) May 09, 2008
Amy_Steri - well said. All that sugar seems absurd to say the least.
superhuman
3.7 / 5 (6) May 09, 2008
Maybe they hope people will buy it to make cheap booze
1bigschwantz
4.3 / 5 (3) May 09, 2008
Glis has a good point!
College kids would probably love this...but almost 10 grand is allot of mac and cheese to give up to save up for one of these.
marjon
4 / 5 (4) May 09, 2008
How will the state and feds tax the fuel?
marjon
4 / 5 (6) May 09, 2008
The solutions are there. Get the government out of the way!
zevkirsh
4.2 / 5 (5) May 09, 2008
this might not seem so absurd 50 years from now when your fuel ration will be 2 gallons a week.
i sincerely hope this is not the case though...but it seems like this is what this idea is aimed at. that sort of future.
Sean_W
3.2 / 5 (10) May 09, 2008
Labs and other industries use ethanol as a solvent, disinfectant and for other uses so the device might be useful for other reasons. If it can deliver absolute alcohol cheaper (99% is currently significantly more costly than 90 or 95%) it would be very valuable.

As for fuel, a means of producing sugar far more efficiently (in terms of land use, energy efficiency and cost that is) than current agricultural methods would be needed. It would preferably be a method that could be done close to markets - using energy from other sources (renewable, nuclear etc.) to drive chemical reactions might be conceivable but it might just be easier to design better electric cars.
Vlasev
3.8 / 5 (5) May 10, 2008
I also doubt this "invention" will do any good.
We all know what happened with corn prise since people started using it to produce ethanol.

Haven't we learn something???
Using food as ethanol source does not work in general - rich nations will have their relatively cheaper fuel, poor people will starve because of the consequent and innevitable rise in the prices.
Corban
4.8 / 5 (4) May 10, 2008
If this machine distilled ethanol from mowed grass instead of perfectly edible sugar, then it would make more sense. As it stands, you're essentially converting resources without any perceptible change in value. What's its purpose?
E_L_Earnhardt
5 / 5 (5) May 10, 2008
During WW2 German taxi-cabs towed "smokers" behind their cabs when gas was unavailable. We could do the same!
SDMike
4.3 / 5 (3) May 10, 2008
If you do not run your vehicle on public roads you do not need to pay "road tax". All my neighbors have two tanks. On taxed tank for road fuel, one untaxed tank for on farm consumption (driving a tractor on public roads from field to field is considered "on farm" consumption). Diesel fuel is dyed so inspectors can see untaxed fuel.

If you use LNG in your car you are not required to pay road tax. Why should you pay road tax on alcohol?

PS Sugar can come from many sources including your kitchen waste stream.
Xig
4.2 / 5 (5) May 10, 2008
Fancy covered Moonshine Still
CWFlink
4 / 5 (4) May 10, 2008
There will soon be speculation raising the price of inedible Mexican sugar higher than the price of edible sugar!!! :-)

Obviously they need to make this still run on grass clippings, garbage and (best) BS!

They should be good at this, seeing how much BS they spread in this article!
ancientone
4.7 / 5 (3) May 10, 2008
Do you really want to be "importing" all that sugar, investing in the "fueller" and then making make the "booze" fuel.

A much better solution is to make methanol.

Have you looked at the case that Dr. Zubrin makes for making flex-fuel vehicles manadory in the US within 3-5 years... this solution would make the US a non-oil-importing nation... just like Brazil currently is.

Check out Dr Zubrin's video at:
http://tinyurl.com/4s4g7l

Then tell your friends about it;
and write to your congress and try to get them off their butts.
snwboardn
4.8 / 5 (4) May 11, 2008
I thought we would have learned something from the latest headlines about using food for fuel. Sure it sounds good on paper until you multiply 100 pounds of sugar by 30 Mil people every time they want a full tank of ethanol... Doesn't sound promising at all.
Kato77
4.7 / 5 (3) May 12, 2008
Those who think they could drink the ethanol from this device should think twice. Distilling alcohol requires very clean equipment to produce a drinkable product. God knows what kind of metals will be in this ethanol, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for fuel, but bad for drinking. Besides to use the device you will need authorization for the ATF, and maybe IRS. Normally farms can make ethanol for fuel, I don't know about non-farms. It might require different licenses, which unlike farms you will have to pay for, have to pay for that road tax you know.
CWW
4 / 5 (2) May 12, 2008
Maybe it's time to check grandpappy's ole barn to see if his moonshine still is still there. If you may be closer to becoming a 'gas' producer than you had imagined. Tales are that when moonshiners ran out of gas on a 'run' they'd pour a gallon or two of brew in their gas tank and keep on going! Hey, maybe this is a beginning - I'm not looking forward to $6 a gallon petrol!
Egnite
4.5 / 5 (2) May 14, 2008
Excellent for Mexico but is it worthwhile for anywhere else that doesn't have the same resources nearby? Hope this doesn't give the government a reason to introduce "sugar tax".
PJS
4.7 / 5 (3) May 16, 2008
How will the state and feds tax the fuel?


They will just start taxing sugar