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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


More readers' questions, answered

It's time for my end of the month feature where I look through my records, see what my readers are searching for, and answer something they wanted to know that I haven't answered on my blog. This month's question:

How do I make my own ethanol?

The answer depends on whether you want to drink it or use it as a motor fuel. If you're planning on using it as a beverage, I recommend sticking with wine or beer. The easiest way to get started at making that at home might be to start by buying a commercial kit like Mr. Beer, brew a couple batches from pre-mixed ingredients, then get a good book on brewing and start trying your own ingredients in your home brewing kit. The only time I tried brewing beer starting with raw grain and all, I did come up with something that could vaguely be recognized as beer. But if I had a little practice, I might do better.

But I get the impression that many of my readers want to know how to make it for their cars, not for drinking. First, keep in mind that the government heavily subsidizes the ethanol you see at the pump, so you could easily end up spending more on making your own than you would if you bought it at the pump. Second, you will need some sort of permit to legally build a still. It wouldn't surprise me if it is easier to get a permit if you are making motor fuel than hooch, although I'm not certain of that. I haven't looked into the specifics, as I don't plan to do this myself.

I would recommend getting a book if you want to set up your own motor fuel still. Lindsay Technical Books sells quite a few books for eccentric do-it-yourself types, so it should be no surprise that they've got a few on distillation. I haven't read the books they have on that subject myself, but I do have a few of their guides to metalworking and machinery in my library. The book most likely to meet your needs would be Secrets of Building an Alchohol Producing Still by Vince Gingery, which covers everything from building it to getting the proper paperwork so the revenuers don't shut you down. They have another book on distilling alchohol for sale, but that one was originally aimed at commercial liquor companies.

Making ethanol from cellulose, which I've talked about earlier, is not something I have heard of anyone doing at home. That might be interesting, but to do that you would also need enzymes to break down cellulose into its component sugars. I'm not sure where you would get those, or just what enzymes you should order. Once you've done that, though, much of the rest of the information in the book should still apply.

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