Charles 803 Still FAQ
Adapted from the late Robert Warren
How much does it cost to produce 1 gallon of ethanol?
It will cost about $1.10 to $1.20/gal to make the alcohol from various feedstocks like corn, barley, potatoes, or Jerusalem artichokes. You will also have by-products which you can sell or use as animal feed, reducing the total cost down to about $.95/gal.
What materials are required to make ethanol once I have a still set up?
First, you need a good source of feedstock. By feedstock, I mean a good source of sugar or starch (carbohydrates) which can be fermented in the same process as which you make beer or wine. Realistically, you want to do all this on a farm where you have access to hammer-mills, large tanks, and various means of handling large amounts of feedstock (and the resultant waste). Corn (dry kernels) is one of the best, as it is over 70% starch. Also, you can use sugar beets, Jerusalem artichokes, rotten apples, grape skins from a winery, and much more. Molasses works great, too.
How much feedstock does it take to produce one gallon of ethanol?
180-proof is 90% pure ethanol. To make it, start out with something cheap and readily available to make your own beer. I suggest you start with ordinary corn, wheat or barley, and start by following an ordinary recipe for making beer at home. Corn is best, with more starch. Grind it with a 1/8th inch screen mill (if it is too small, it is like flour and will ball up in water, so a course grind is better). For starters, use two 50-pound sacks of grain (40 kg). (I don’t suggest buying this on a regular basis, but just for your first run if you don’t have anything else available for free). If you make 80 litres (20 gallons) of beer at a 10% alcohol content (which is about what you get working with corn) you end up with a little over 2 gallons of high proof (.10 x 20 gal/.9 = 2.2 gal of 180 proof). In metric, this is .1 x 80 ltr/.9 = 8.9 litres. You will soon discover that for making fuel, you will want to start with a minimum of 100 gallons, hopefully at a 10% sugar concentration, to get 10 gallons of fuel to be efficient.
What’s the production rate?
If you have 50 gallons of beer at a 5% alcohol content (which is about what you get working with barley or wheat) you end up with a little over 5 gallons of high proof (0.05 x 50 gal / 0.9 = 5.5 gal of 180 proof). With dry corn, you can easily get twice as much alcohol from the same amount of grain. If you run the still at full capacity (it is designed to handle a 500-gallon boiler), you can produce 5 to 7 gallons per hour of 180-proof fuel. You can even run two stills in parallel if you want 14 gallons per hour. You don’t want a large batch to go bad because you didn’t get around to distilling it, if you aren’t fully set up for running the still. So, start small and know what you are doing before trying to ferment and run large batches.
Can I make this still myself?
Yes — if you are handy with copper plumbing tools and techniques. You’ll find the blueprints and written instructions to be quite thorough in helping you through all parts of assembly. But it helps if you have an experienced hand to solder the pipes properly. (Get a friend to help you). The instructions include material on how to solder properly. The plans contain the complete list of materials, detailed drawings of the construction procedures, and some alternative methods of heating and running the still. It also includes several pages describing how to adjust and run the still, with variations for different feedstocks and fuel sources.
How much will the still cost to build?
It will cost you about $600 to $900 to build the still– less, if you’re good at scavenging parts and components, tanks, boilers, old plumbing fittings, etc. You’ll need 5 feet of 3-inch-diameter copper pipe, with various copper fittings from a plumbing supply store which are listed in the plans… The key piece of technology is the automatic temperature sensor/controller valve, which precisely regulates the optimum temperature for separation of condensed alcohol from the water vapors. This ensures consistent production of 180-proof ethanol.
How long will it take to build the still?
I used to teach a still-building class over a two-day weekend, which included a full day of building and completing a still. It may take you a month just to get all your components together, and then you can put it together in one or two good weekends.
Can you buy a car already set up to run on Ethanol?
There are lots of cars you can buy that are already set up for E-85: Ford Taurus, Chrysler Voyager Minivan, Ford Explorer, Dodge Ram pickups and Mazda 3000 pickups, and much more.
Isn’t ethanol bad for certain fuel system components in fuel pumps and carburetors?
No. Todays cars are built to be compatible with ethanol-blended fuels. When ethanol was first introduced in the 1980s, some cars experienced deterioration of some elastomers (rubber-like parts) and metal fuel system components. Very quickly, manufacturers upgraded their fuel systems so that today, they are now all compatible with ethanol fuels.
Can you make ethanol out of straw, grass clippings, or wood chips?
Yes and no. Alcohol is now being made from straw by a Canadian company, Iogen, which is using a genetically modified organism (GMO), in this case, yeast to do just that. But this yeast product is not for sale and certainly will not be available to small scale producers. Other techniques have been tried, but they tend to be expensive, dangerous (involving strong acids) and have toxic waste products.