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Susan Monroe
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I've just started reading David Blume's book, Alcohol Can Be a Gas!  It's a BIG book!

I didn't realize that Mr. Blume was a hardcore permie, but he is.

Here's his site, if anyone is interested:  http://www.alcoholcanbeagas.com/

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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wow! thanks for posting that link! I went to topeka to watch the drags one year in person, and watching the alcohol dragsters made me wonder why regular cars couldn' t be adapted to do so. I just assumed that their were legit reasons and left the thought alone. but of course the reasons are probably more about big money than feasability. it sounds like it wouldn't take much to adapt a car at all! this is going to first place in the actual consideration department of my brain! I have't been excited about any of the proposed "alternative" fuels but his one really tickles me. maybe because I have 7 gallons of wine in my pantry and know how ridiculously easy it is to obtain alcohal at home.

on a side note: if prohibition is really responsible for the halt on the use of alcohol for cars that really  ticks me off. the beginning of our government sticking its nose where it doesn't belong and its long standing unanticipated repurcussions. hemp of course is another example of a useful product that the government should have kept its sticky hands out of. what industry will we see flunk that could have saved the world that would have been successful if the gooberment would'nt have worried about trying to save individual people from themselves?
 
Susan Monroe
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Blume is saying in his book that John D. Rockefeller was behind prohibition.  Rockefeller was in the kerosene business (distilled from oil) and was the founder of Standard Oil.  He quietly donated millions of dollars to the temperance organizations (his family members sat on their boards) to squash the thousands of farmers who had been making alcohol to run their equipment. 

Henry Ford's Model A and Model T were factory-made as dual-fuel vehicles, using alcohol or gasoline.  They got 34 mpg/

By the time Prohibition was repealed, gasoline was entrenched as the national fuel.

Blume said that he went to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn MI, and discovered that every reference to (and by) engineer Jack Dailey had been removed from the records.  Dailey was Henry Ford's alcohol fuel project director, who tested feedstocks, he worked on engine modifications, various fuel mixtures of kerosene and alcohol, the power output of various dilutions of water and alcohol, etc.  Every one of his test results, all his research, and every mention of his name had disappeared from the museum.

Rockefeller tried to squash the alcohol industry in Europe, too, but with much less success than here.

This is a really interesting book!  Very readable.  He also advocates permaculture methods for growing the crops.  He went to Brazil, which makes virtually all its own fuel, and was thrilled to find that the sugarcane grown to make the alcohol there is grown on keyline methods.  After years of seeing American cornfield and vineyard rows running up and down hills, he braced himself to see more more of the same in Brazil. 

"I really enjoyed being wrong here.  What especially impressed me when I first saw cane country in Brazil was  the obvious influence of permaculturists.  The fields were all tilled to keyline (close to contour) with periodic swales made by bulldozed berm walls of about three feet.  This was done on hills that were sloped about 15 degrees!  We watched the results of a downpour just pool up behind the swales and soak in.  No runnels took soil downhill with each rain.  Each sugarcane row was also a contour berm that soaked the water in evenly..."

And he finally answered a question I've had for some months:  American cars, as they are right this moment, can use up to 34% alcohol mixed with gasoline.  No conversion necessary.

Very good book!  I recommend it highly.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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Please excuse the hijack ... 

I kinda wonder about low power cars that would get 50+ mpg. 

I remember my friend had an old honda civic that got 50+.  It just didn't go super fast.  It seems like it would be pretty easy to have humble little cars that would get really excellent mileage.

Didn't the geo metro cars get better than 50?

 
Susan Monroe
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My brother used to have a Geo Metro, and he loved it.  He said it regularly got 50 mpg, but he commuted to work over a mountain, and he felt that had his entire route been flat (1 hr, 20 min each way), it would probably have gotten a little more.

Unfortunately, he was doing 30 mph (limit) when he was rear-ended by a drunk clocked at 65.

Have you ever noticed that the sales pitch for cars is always speed?  What's the point of being able to get to 60 in 6 seconds?  Who really puts their foot down to the car's maximum speed that isn't endangering someone else?  How much extra are you paying, both purchase price and gas, for a car that can go 185 mph? Value?  None except for ego.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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I always think about that to sue. i can see the value of being able to step on it and manuever in high traffic situations but it is scary that speed sells cars. I really hate when you get the macho guy who says "the people speeding are the safest people on the road" yeah right! when they leave a trail of accidents. THEY are safer that doesn't mean they cause less accidents. they are over the rise out of site while the mess ensues behind them because they wouldn't merge in order of entrance to the highway and feel the need to pass those people in front of them that are trying to get on too, or  tehy get in the exit lane and accelerate  and pass people so no one else get onto the exit ramp. sheesh.
 
paul wheaton
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I have to admit that a more powerful car is a safer car.  Sometimes, to avoid a collision, you gotta hit the gas!

But!  I remember driving a large car in 2000 that got 32 mpg, but had an interesting engine:  it normally ran four cylinders and gave great mileage.  And when you punched it, it would activate two more.  So it seems like it would have the best of both worlds:  good mileage and good power. 

 
Susan Monroe
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Apparently there are more cars like that these days.  Some of my crews were telling me about them.

I drive for a living (such as it is).  I can't even think of the last time I had to punch it to avoid a problem.  I join traffic at the speed the traffic is going.  I leave 200 or 300 feet or more between the car in front and me.  I can slow down gradually because of the space I leave.  I pay attention to what is going on around me.  I'm trying to watch what is going on up to a half-mile ahead.

Most of my passengers are sleeping.  Three things that are sure to wake them up are hard braking, running over the lane buttons, and the driver saying "OH, S**T!" 

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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darn. I  found out distilling your own alcohol is illegal. I was really seriously considering brewing my own fuel. pre child days I would be doing it anyway!

as a teenager i worked in a donut shop. it was hard to predict how much to make and we would sometimes have trays upon trays that we had to dump in the TRASH! think about all that SUGAR just waiting to be turned into FUEL for my car. I would just need to work out a deal with a donut shop owner. after lobbying for the legalization of home distillerys of course. 
 
Susan Monroe
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Leah, I thought Prohibition (brewing alcohol) had been repealed.  Is this not true in OK?

Sue
 
tel jetson
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so, ethanol as fuel: it has to be distilled to remove most of the water, yes?

the stills I'm familiar with require quite a bit of energy to vaporize the ethanol in the mash.  is there more energy in the distilled ethanol than it takes to distill it?  if so, how much more?

are there alternatives to electricity- or fire-heated stills?  using a solar collector to heat the mash?

can ethanol be distilled without energy-intensive heating?  ethanol evaporates more rapidly than water and at lower temperatures.  could it be condensed from a closed system at ambient temperatures?

I'm a little late to the game, I guess.  I just placed a hold on Alcohol Can Be a Gas, and I suppose the answers I'm looking for may be in that book.

I believe sugar cane residue is burned to fire large stills in Brazil.  I suppose I could use biomass to fire a still, but I don't really like to burn things that have higher uses.

personally, I think looking for an alternative, nastiness-free fuel to allow us to continue our internal combustion habit might not be the best idea.  but I am intrigued.

and, regarding the legality of home distillation: it is illegal, but permits are given.  I don't think the powers are just handing out permits on the street, but I also don't think it's prohibitively difficult to get one for a person who is serious about it.

small-scale home fermentation is legal most places (parts of Alaska and Kentucky are "dry" without a permit, though.  it's the still that will get you in trouble.
 
jeremiah bailey
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One word: Biodiesel. Diesel that is processed from vegetable oil instead of petroleum. The energy content of diesel is much higher (read as more fuel efficient.) That is why diesel vehicles get better mpgs. You can usually scrounge the needed oil from restaurants and such. The other two main ingredients are methanol and lye. As long as you are comfortable handling these potentially dangerous chemicals, the process is mostly self fueled, albeit with a little added heat and agitation. Nowhere near the energy input that is needed for distillation.
 
Nicholas Covey
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The mash only has to be heated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit in order to distill the alcohol from the water and mash. That can be obtained with a solar collector...



Here is a link to an online book called Solargas which deals with just that. http://www.soilandhealth.org/copyform.aspx?bookcode=030223

 
Daniel Zimmermann
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Distilling ethanol at home requires a permit from BATFE (in the US), and it basically says that you'll keep records, allow for inspections, and that you'll denature it--make it unfit for human consumption.  I've heard a small amount of kerosene will do that, but I don't know for certain.
 
Robert Ray
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Last Mother Earth News has a bit about using a column still for alcohol production, an interesting overview anyway.
 
tel jetson
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jeremiah bailey wrote:
One word: Biodiesel. Diesel that is processed from vegetable oil instead of petroleum. The energy content of diesel is much higher (read as more fuel efficient.) That is why diesel vehicles get better mpgs. You can usually scrounge the needed oil from restaurants and such. The other two main ingredients are methanol and lye. As long as you are comfortable handling these potentially dangerous chemicals, the process is mostly self fueled, albeit with a little added heat and agitation. Nowhere near the energy input that is needed for distillation.


out here on the Left Coast, used fryer oil is no longer free for the taking.  I don't know exactly when or how it happened, but I imagine restaurants collectively got wise after a few years of hippies offering to dispose of the oil for them.  now it's bought and collected by one upstart biodiesel outfit or another and scrounging is much less likely to be successful.  reclaiming waste fryer oil is obviously a good idea, but it's a limited resource and has already been claimed, at least around here.

but back to ethanol: I'm a good chunk of the way through Alcohol Can Be a Gas! (it's around 600 large pages) and I may be convinced.  the real ticket is distributed production.  I don't think I'll advocate that millions of acres of corn be devoted to fuel production, though Blume does make the case that byproducts of distillation could easily replace the corn that would be diverted from use as animal feed.  rather, small fuel co-ops growing feedstock on small acreage and distilling on site make a lot more sense.

the only material that has to leave the site is the alcohol: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, which aren't cycled locally anyhow so the process is potentially sustainable.  with careful design, the ethanol produced will be the least profitable output.  other possible products include (but aren't limited to) mushrooms, aquaculture fish, vegetables, and high quality animal feed.  those products would be much more difficult to produce sustainably, though I do believe it could be done.

as noted elsewhere on this forum, David Blume clearly has an agenda to push and may be fond of hyperbole, but he lays out some pretty solid arguments and technical details in the book.  I'm not ready to bet my meager savings on an ethanol plant just now, but I do think I'll be ordering some plans for a simple still in the near future.

my only concern about this is that it may remove one major motivation to shift a culture away from automobiles.  the devastation caused by the production and use of gasoline and petroleum-based diesel is far from the only damage automobiles cause, though it does receive much more media and public attention than the rest.  removing petroleum from the equation does nothing to mitigate all the other sundry trouble that automobile transportation is responsible for.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Butanol!

* The organisms are a little less robust in some ways, but aren't nearly such as picky eaters as Champagne yeast. The process doesn't necessarily compete with food production.

* Distillation is less energy-intensive. For the same reason, fuel grade can be achieved in one step, and the fuel will not absorb water from the air the way ethanol does.

* Butanol has not traditionally been used as a drug, so is not regulated by liquor laws.
 
tel jetson
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I was under the impression that it's relatively difficult to separate butanol from the other fermentation products of Clostridium acetobutylicum, such as butyric acid, ethanol, and acetone.  other than that, butanol seems like a great fuel.

Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
* The organisms are a little less robust in some ways, but aren't nearly such as picky eaters as Champagne yeast. The process doesn't necessarily compete with food production.


the conventional wisdom is that ethanol production would be diverting food crops or reducing the amount of land available for food production.  that's certainly a possibility, but there are better ways.

one example Blume mentions: use cattails grown in wetlands for secondary treatment of municipal waste water.  the cattails are already filtering water, so any additional use is bonus.  they grow rapidly in the nutrients supplied by the waste water and are an excellent feedstock for ethanol production.  if there's an easy workaround for separating butanol, I assume cattails would also be an even easier feedstock for butanol.

other methods could easily increase food production while producing ethanol.  CO[sub]2[/sub] enrichment of food crops or feeding stillage to fungus or fish, for example.

Joel Hollingsworth wrote:* Distillation is less energy-intensive. For the same reason, fuel grade can be achieved in one step, and the fuel will not absorb water from the air the way ethanol does.


I don't know the ins and outs of the energy required to operate a butanol still, or an ethanol still for that matter.  it's my understanding that hygroscopy is only a problem at proofs above 190 with long-term storage.  gasoline engines are relatively simply modified to run on 185-proof ethanol.  160-proof works, so long as it isn't contaminated with acid from a bad fermentation.

Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
* Butanol has not traditionally been used as a drug, so is not regulated by liquor laws.


the lack of regulation is nice.  the lack of potential for non-fuel recreational use is a drawback from my point of view.

some other notable differences:

ethanol has a higher octane rating than butanol, so higher compression ratios and increased efficiency with increased timing advance both allow higher efficiency with ethanol.

butanol is substantially more viscous than ethanol.  could cause issues with fuel injection, though fuel heating might easily overcome the viscosity.  ethanol, in turn, is more viscous than gasoline and requires larger ports or fuel heating.

the butanol fermentation and distillation seem to be rather more complex than ethanol.  butanol production is potentially more efficient than ethanol for plants putting out 5 million (that number is a mildly educated guess) gallons per year and above, but for the small co-op producer, I think ethanol might be the best bet at this point.  especially if co-products are thrown into the mix.
 
Lf London
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Susan Monroe wrote:
I've just started reading David Blume's book, Alcohol Can Be a Gas!  It's a BIG book!

I didn't realize that Mr. Blume was a hardcore permie, but he is.

Here's his site, if anyone is interested:  http://www.alcoholcanbeagas.com/

Sue


No he's not "a hardcore permie", he is a phony and opportunist at best;
Those in-the-know know him as your typical card-carrying brown paper wrapper dime-a-dozen permaculture used car salesman.
Research what happened with a PCD course concocted by Blume and taught by Mollison & Pittman, both of whom
lost a bunch of time and money thanks to Blume's mismanagement of the course. See for yourself. Don't be taken in by that one...
 
tel jetson
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that's too bad.  any recommended starting points for that research you suggest, LFLondon?  or maybe you could just tell us a bit about it.

in the end, I would rather be a sucker than to sucker other people, but I hope to avoid both.  my hope is that the information in the book checks out, even if the author is a grifter.
 
Lf London
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tel jetson wrote:
that's too bad.  any recommended starting points for that research you suggest, LFLondon?  or maybe you could just tell us a bit about it.

in the end, I would rather be a sucker than to sucker other people, but I hope to avoid both.


I haven't looked at his book. It may be great and his saving grace; I'll certainly allow that to be true.
I know nothing about making fuel alcohol except that it may be feasable on a small scale but very complex and expensive on a large scale.

I do not regard Blume as a permaculturist, much less a teacher of permaculture. He has been significantly discredited by his peers.
Other than buying his book I would have absolutely nothing to do with him, online or offline.

There's so much happening on the permaculture scene to pick from these days.

Take a serious look at growing duckweed in aquaculture systems that recycle concentrated nutrient inputs, i.e. manure.
Here's something I posted to another list.
"Its all about processing hog manure with several varieties of duckweed, one for livestock feed and another for fertilizer (and also to sell those varieties to other farmers for innoculation of their own ponds). That's the ultimate critical path, with the least energy loss
and with maximum retention of feed and fertilizer nutrients, from hog
to field or feed trough. Maybe it can be used as a silage ingredient. It has as much protein as soybean. Forget algae, biogas and ethanol conversion, duckweed and manure are Nature's perfect match. Duckweed can be grown year round. When harvested it can be dried in an open shed to produce a granular material and stored indefinitely in sealed containers for later use."

Long Live Permies.Com!
Combine the US Department of the Interior and the US Department of Agriculture
Rename it The Department of Permaculture
Make Paul Wheaton chief administrator, manure hauler, compost turner and harvest manager
 
                          
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I have read Blume's book nearly cover to cover, and also read "Alcohol Fuel: Making and Using Ethanol as a Renewable Fuel" by Richard Freudenberger, from Mother Earth News. They are good to read together if you are serious about the subject. "Alcohol Fuel" is a slimmer volume and much more concise and down-to-earth, with enough info to get you started. Blume goes into more technical detail about fuel making and engine conversions, and lots about enterprises that could use the byproducts. Can't say I've seen any major contradictions between the books. Blume's vision is pretty breathtaking, and I'm on board with him (at least on the farm/local scale), but I also appreciate the measured and realistic tone of Freudenberger.

One of the more tempting possibilities is building a matched biogas generator and ethanol distillery, in which all the production heat is generated by the thin stillage, or water and fine solubles, that is a byproduct of distillation. This is common in India and is showing up at a few large US plants. Freudenberger does not mention this at all, and Blum makes much of it and has a bit of info. After picking up "Biogas Handbook" by David House, I see that Blum is a bit cavalier in his treatment of biogas; it is quite involved and the scale needed to boil hundreds of gallons of water per batch is serious. However, I see this more as an engineering and design issue; I believe the principle is still sound, especially if you have access to manure. I am looking to start building a small distillery this winter.

@tel jetson, I'm not too worried about small-scale ethanol perpetuating car culture. I am more interested in it as a medium-term transition strategy allowing us to use motorized farm equipment and other internal combustion engines for basically building more permaculture farms and local transport and hauling.

@LFLondon, those are some pretty disparaging remarks with very little to back them up. I would love to see something more concrete than 'he messed up a permaculture course one time' with no references.
 
Dave Bennett
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David Blume & his father were organic gardening in San Francisco before most people were even concerned about the poisoning of our food system.  He is in fact a permaculturist and was "on the scene" early in the development of the philosophy.  I began researching alcohol as an alternative fuel back in the 70's when the first "homesteader" articles appearing in "hippie culture" publications.  Criticisms of him seem odd to me.  Not all permaculturists agree on an approach to solving any particular challenge but suggesting he is not a permaculturist without evidence is not productive to the discussion. 
Ethanol and biodiesel are subjects that I personally have devoted much time and research.  The problem with biodiesel is that the easiest method uses methanol in the process and that comes from natural gas.  Biodiesel can be made using ethanol but it is difficult.  The point here is that you can make your own ethanol so that makes it possible to literally grow your own fuel stocks if you chose to only use either fuel.  I think both is a better idea.  If anyone is curious, I have the research from the University of Idaho on the process using ethanol in the product of biodiesel. 
Ethanol can be run in any internal combustion engine with a few easily accomplished modifications.  Newer vehicles will run of a mix of up to 50% ethanol mixed with gasoline without any modifications.  They don't have to be designated as flex fuel vehicles.  There is nothing special added to make them work that way.  It is the computer controlled engine management system that does the alterations in engine timing.
More later.
 
Doug Owen
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It is a simple process to get a permit allowing for production of alcohol for energy purposes.  The barrier for producing alcohol used as liquor is quite high.


Leah Sattler wrote:
darn. I  found out distilling your own alcohol is illegal. I was really seriously considering brewing my own fuel. pre child days I would be doing it anyway!

as a teenager i worked in a donut shop. it was hard to predict how much to make and we would sometimes have trays upon trays that we had to dump in the TRASH! think about all that SUGAR just waiting to be turned into FUEL for my car. I would just need to work out a deal with a donut shop owner. after lobbying for the legalization of home distillerys of course. 
 
Dave Bennett
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DougOwen wrote:
It is a simple process to get a permit allowing for production of alcohol for energy purposes.  The barrier for producing alcohol used as liquor is quite high.


Exactly.  I am planning to build my boiler soon too.  I made a deal with someone that has extra space in an industrial complex so I can do my alcohol production.  I am sending for my permit next week.
 
Daniel Zimmermann
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The alcohol fuel of the future isn't ethanol, but butanol.
 
Dave Bennett
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Antibubba wrote:
The alcohol fuel of the future isn't ethanol, but butanol.
The butanol question is as easy as asking if you want Big Oil to continue to dominate energy or not.  If you do then butanol is the energy for you.  If you think the people should take charge of their own energy needs then ethanol is the answer.  The only advantage butanol has over ethanol is that it can be transported through existing pipelines just like gasoline.  No thanks.  I will make my own fuel.  Suggesting butanol as the fuel of the future is suggesting that you want to pay whatever Big Oil asks you to pay.  Local community control of energy is in my opinion a much better choice.  Even wikipedia suggests that butanol can be mixed with gasoline at higher percentages than ethanol which is completely false.  Ethanol can be mixed up to 50% with gasoline right now in all automobile manufactured by  US auto makers.  The need to order a flex fuel vehicle is just more propaganda.  For a few hundred dollars you can add a module to the existing computer controller in present automobiles that will allow you to use 100% ethanol or any mixture with gasoline without any further modifications.
I would prefer to make my own fuel than give my money to DuPont or BP, et al.
 
Abe Connally
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I have been a fan of Blume's integrated alcohol designs for a long time. Almost all beginners to fuel alcohol start thinking about still design, and how to power the still, etc.

The trick isn't in the still, folks (there are tons of plans for those).  The trick is getting enough feedstock at the right time, being able to process it, transport it, etc.

I have tried to make it work with lots of different things, from prickly pears to windfall apples to mesquite beans, but getting enough feedstock to even cover 1/3 of our fuel requirements (we use about 400 gallons of fuel a year) is a LOT of feedstock, believe me.

And forget about growing oil crops, unless you have acres of nice farmland. (please don't bring up algae)

For now, I have to use what is reasonably available and usable, and for us, that means using western junipers for wood gas.
 
Kay Bee
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Nicholas Covey wrote:
The mash only has to be heated to 170 degrees Fahrenheit in order to distill the alcohol from the water and mash. That can be obtained with a solar collector...



Here is a link to an online book called Solargas which deals with just that. http://www.soilandhealth.org/copyform.aspx?bookcode=030223




This was a very entertaining read, thank you for posting the link.  It was very interesting to see how much has changed since the book was written 30 years ago.  And some things that haven't...
 
Dave Bennett
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Storage is the biggest problem.  Brewing the feedstock when it is available is workable but storage of a couple of thousand gallons of "wine" for the still is a viable solution the ethanol won't go dead like low quality gasoline.  I have some ideas in that regard.  The yeast for the ferment can be reused multiple times before replenishment just like we do at the brewery.  We harvest it just before the ABV hits a level that will kill it. 

I think using an integrated approach is the best idea.  Using ethanol, biodiesel and perhaps even wood gasification for different energy needs.  Nobody said it would be a walk in the park but definitely better than Big Oil.  Perhaps a co-op of energy producers that specialize in ethanol and some that produce biodiesel.  That would cover two of the bases.  Wood gasifiers have been refined considerably in the last few years compared to what was being used in the 30's-40's. Some versions are extremely adaptable to multiple feed stocks.  Preventing further destruction of the environment for filthy energy is why I will "keep after it."

Peace.
 
Jacob Nielson
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the survival podcast has done a half dozen podcasts with a guy named Steven Harris, he details all of the legalities and methods for home distilling alcohol for fuel. Based on what he says, it is completely legal to distill alcohol for a fuel, and completely illegal to distill for consumption, he indicates that beyond the free permit you only have to add something to the distillate to make it poisonous for consumption, he recommends 5% gasoline.

I found the interview very informative and have been thinking about what I might have easy access to or could grow to provide the sugar needed to start the process.... thinking sorgum, sugar cane etc.

Here is the link for Jack's show with Steven Harris. http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/steven-harris-on-making-alcohol-based-fuels-at-home

Steven Harris has info on his website too, in the show notes for TSP. (He also sells a ton of books on his website, I'm not sure how good his books are but he does seem knowledgeable)
 
Bill Bianchi
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To fuel distillation, bio-briquetting may help. Bio-briquetting is wetting bio-mass, putting it in a mould, and smashing it until you have a very tightly compacted chunk of biomass in whatever shape your mould happened to be. These briquettes can then be dried and cleanly burned in an efficient stove.
Wood has lignin, a natural glue that comes out when under pressure, as does paper, a wood product. This helps hold the briquette together when it dries. Try to include a bit of sawdust or paper in the briquette making process for briquettes that hold together well, if possible.

Burning bio-briquettes in an efficient (smokeless) stove could provide the heat source for distillation. If bio-briquettes were made from municipal or agricultural waste destined for some landfill, you would be doing your part to solve 2 problems at once; reducing your financial support for petroleum fuel, and reducing the amount of waste going into our landfills.

As for alcohol feedstocks, many are listed in David Blume's book. I particularly liked cattails as a source, due to their use in waste management. Looks like a win/win to use them to break down solid waste, then be the source feed for alcohol distillation, then growing back again to repeat that cycle. It was posited that a family of four produce enough waste (crap) to feed a small marsh of cattails, which would be big enough to produce enough ethanol for average driving needs. I'd need more convincing on that, but it was an intriguing idea.

If there were a better way to make ethanol from switchgrass or weeds, rather than from human food, I'd feel better about its production as a fuel at the home or community level. I would think sugarbeets would be among the most productive crops in the US for fuel alcohol distillation. While still a human food crop, it wouldn't break my heart to see it used to produce fuel alcohol instead of more sugar.

I saw a lot of speculation about fuel alcohol produced at the national level. I think that is wishful thinking.
Here's the thing. Either we solve the coming energy crisis on our own, at the community or individual level, or it doesn't get solved. The coming energy crisis is only a crisis for the citizens, not the energy providers. To them, the coming crisis is a time of unparrelled profits, as seen by the record profits after the last interuption of oil refining/price hike in oil prices. Don't expect the wolf to fix the sheeple's security problem of predators feeding on them, folks. Could we switch to alcohol as our primary fuel source on a national level? Brazil did it and they're not more technologically or industrially advanced than the US, so I imagine it's within our capability. But, the US government, which no longer represents We-The-People, will not go against cooperate greed/insanity. No renewable, clean power on a national scale for us. Period.

Producer gas, methane, fuel alcohol, bio-crude, bio-diesel, solar/wind electric are among the few homemade fuels available to us as individuals. These are the fuels/energy we as individuals need to work toward, in my opinion. Only when enough individuals show enough other individuals (by doing not preaching, walking the walk not talking the talk) that we no longer need to rely on oil & coal will enough citizens begin to demand a change in our national energy policy. Their "experts" will explain that it's just not possible, that it's just not feasible, economically advantageous, or efficient. If people look at their neighbors who are actually doing what is claimed to be impossible, maybe they'll realize at last they've been lied to for a long time and demand a change.

I don't know if fuel alcohol is the answer or not, but it could be part of the solution.

Sorry for being so blunt, but it's high time we roll up our sleeves, fix our own problems, and stop expecting our government to do anything right, much less fix a major situation like this. We can do this, no sweat.

 
Marcos Buenijo
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jeremiah bailey wrote:One word: Biodiesel. Diesel that is processed from vegetable oil instead of petroleum. The energy content of diesel is much higher (read as more fuel efficient.) That is why diesel vehicles get better mpgs. You can usually scrounge the needed oil from restaurants and such. The other two main ingredients are methanol and lye. As long as you are comfortable handling these potentially dangerous chemicals, the process is mostly self fueled, albeit with a little added heat and agitation. Nowhere near the energy input that is needed for distillation.


Not quite true. The energy density of biodiesel is lower than diesel fuel derived from petroleum. However, it is higher than gasoline (it's roughly in the middle). Yes, this higher energy density contributes to a higher mpg. However, the primary reason why a vehicle fueled by a Diesel engine gets better fuel economy is the higher thermal efficiency of the Diesel engine due to its much higher compression ratio and the fact that there are fewer pumping losses because the air supply in a Diesel engine is not throttled. So, the part load efficiency of a Diesel is a lot higher than the gas engine as well as the peak efficiency. Diesel engines really are remarkably efficient.

However, an engine optimized for ethanol can see significantly higher thermal efficiency than a gas engine because ethanol has a higher octane rating. This means it can tolerate a higher compression ratio than gasoline. In fact, an engine optimized for ethanol can see a thermal efficiency similar to a Diesel engine. However, it remains true that ethanol has a much lower energy density than biodiesel. So, yes, the mpg of a car fueled by biodiesel will be higher than the car fueled by ethanol. However, it's much more important to consider that the VAST majority of bio feed stocks available for producing biofuels are suitable for conversion to ethanol and NOT biodiesel. In fact, the dry mass of most plants is made up of cellulose. Cellulose is nothing more than a complex chain of glucose molecules. It takes enzymes to break apart the cellulose and these enzymes are not yet cost effective for use in ethanol production as compared to traditional techniques, but the point remains that there is a lot more potential for producting transport fuel from biomass by focusing on ethanol as compared to biodiesel. In other words, any truly large scale biofuel production effort should concentrate on ethanol.

There are many systems in development for producing ethanol that are interesting (beyond sugar cane and corn). For example, a bacteria was discovered about 10 years ago that can convert producer gas directly into ethanol, and at high conversion efficiency. See www.coskata.com. The company is concentrating on using natural gas to generate the feed stock for the bacteria due to the current low cost of natural gas, but biomass can be gasified to do the same.

 
Marcos Buenijo
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On fuel ethanol production at home, the major obstacle is securing a cost effective feed stock. The second major obstacle is finding a cost effective way to power the still. If someone is considering this, then I recommend producing ethanol during winter months when space heating is required. The heat from the still can be used for this purpose. Water heating might also be used. The principle here is that if the heat from the still (generally from the condensation of the ethanol) is put to use, then it's like fueling the still for free. If someone uses electricity for heating, then this could be particularly convenient as a small still could be in the living room blowing heat around. I estimate that a still operating at a constant rate of 1 KW electrical should produce roughly one gallon of ethanol after 24 hours. Of course, this would not be economical if the heat were not put to use. I mean, this much electricity would take a typical electric car more than twice the range of a compact car on a gallon of ethanol. However, if one is going to use the heat anyway, then moving it through an ethanol still first makes sense (again, if you have a cheap source of fermentable sugars).
 
Villiam Jones
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I consider the use of food stocks to run folks cars to be EVIL. Why? Its really simple. using food for fuel drive up prices of food. I wonder how many of the very poor in third world countries are going to bed hungry or mal-norished because Americans are using food to run their cars. After the drought we had last year much of the corn crop was destroyed, yet the Obama administration would not allow the percentage of ethanol to be lowered to reduce the impact on food prices. Even the use of non edible crops takes crop land away from food production. I'm not a big fan of gasoline but I'm even less a fan of ethanol. It also causes many problems for motors. I have a motorcycle in the shop right now because of ethanol. It corrodes parts, dissolves gaskets and diaphragms in carburetors
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2011-03-17-food-costs-world-hunger.htm
 
tel jetson
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Villiam Jones wrote:I consider the use of food stocks to run folks cars to be EVIL. Why? Its really simple. using food for fuel drive up prices of food. I wonder how many of the very poor in third world countries are going to bed hungry or mal-norished because Americans are using food to run their cars.


the very poor in many countries are very poor because of US food programs dumping food in their countries and destroying their old agrarian economies. if the US sent money to governments to buy food from local producers instead, they would likely be a lot better off, both in terms of economy and nutrition.

Villiam Jones wrote:After the drought we had last year much of the corn crop was destroyed, yet the Obama administration would not allow the percentage of ethanol to be lowered to reduce the impact on food prices. Even the use of non edible crops takes crop land away from food production.


I'm not a fan of corn ethanol, either, but I would describe the situation differently: in my opinion, growing commodity corn for any purpose is taking land away from food production. it's an industrial product, not food. subsidies to grow it had been around for generations before ethanol was introduced into the mix.

in Alcohol Can Be a Gas, there are some good ideas floated for making ethanol of waste material and non-food crops. one I particularly liked is growing cattails in constructed wetlands for waste water treatment and using the starchy cattail tubers for ethanol production. other parts of the plant can be dried and used to fire the still. high-energy industrial waste treatment is avoided, and an energy crop is created.

Villiam Jones wrote:I'm not a big fan of gasoline but I'm even less a fan of ethanol. It also causes many problems for motors. I have a motorcycle in the shop right now because of ethanol. It corrodes parts, dissolves gaskets and diaphragms in carburetors.


the corrosion problem occurs when gasoline and ethanol are mixed. with ethanol alone, corrosion isn't a problem.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Those who may be interested in ethanol production should take a look at vacuum distillation. I have not yet done the research, but I understand that within a certain pressure range under vacuum the ethanol percentage of the distillate vapors approaches 100%. There is also the ability to distill at a much lower temperature that could help to increase efficiency and/or allow the use of certain heat sources that would normally not be used for this purpose (solar, compost, etc.).

 
tel jetson
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:Those who may be interested in ethanol production should take a look at vacuum distillation. I have not yet done the research, but I understand that within a certain pressure range under vacuum the ethanol percentage of the distillate vapors approaches 100%.


it's keeping it at near 100% that's the problem: ethanol is hydrophilic enough that it absorbs water molecules from air. I think that brings it down to around 96% relatively quickly.


I wonder what the best power source for the vacuum pump would be. ethanol is the obvious answer, but as long as there's a fire involved for the still, I suppose it could also be steam powered.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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tel jetson wrote:
Marcos Buenijo wrote:Those who may be interested in ethanol production should take a look at vacuum distillation. I have not yet done the research, but I understand that within a certain pressure range under vacuum the ethanol percentage of the distillate vapors approaches 100%.


it's keeping it at near 100% that's the problem: ethanol is hydrophilic enough that it absorbs water molecules from air. I think that brings it down to around 96% relatively quickly.


I wonder what the best power source for the vacuum pump would be. ethanol is the obvious answer, but as long as there's a fire involved for the still, I suppose it could also be steam powered.


Just use a conventional electric motor driven vacuum pump. An air tight still can be devised so that very little energy is required to establish and maintain the vacuum. This is not terribly difficult.

The main benefits I see is the prospect of getting a high alcohol percentage with a single pass through a fairly simple device while using a low temperature source of heat. Sure, 100% is totally unnecessary, but a vacuum still achieving 100% suggests to me that it might be configured to produce a suitable fuel product in a single pass without using a precise reflux column with tight controls. Using solar heat is particularly interesting as it could be self-regulating and automated... batch or continuous. There is also the prospect of using heat from compost, and I have considered a fairly simple way to configure a still using such a heat source. Bottom line is that using vacuum equipment makes it practical to distill ethanol with low temperature heat sources, and expanding the uses for limited resources is always good. I've been working with vacuum equipment recently, and it really doesn't seem terribly difficult to devise something like this assuming one has the incentive to follow through with it.

As before, I consider the main problem with small scale fuel ethanol production to be access to inexpensive fermentable sugars.
 
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