Mike and I saw this on the news yesterday and got very excited. We talked serious logistics of taking a loan to get one of these bad boys so that we could be fuel independent and not rely on outside sources for fuel. But then I researched it and *poof* shattered dreams.
So, this Micro-fueler is supposed to allow you to make your own ethanol at home from sugar, yeast and water. That sounds easy enough. The start up cost of owning the machine is about $10,000 and they say that with government tax incentives it could likely be reduced by as much as $5,000. They estimate purchasing the unit would pay for itself in less than 2 years if gas averages stay at $3.60. They said it would cost about a $1.70ish something to produce a gallon of ethanol. All of this sounded great on the news, especially considering that the prices of a barrel of gas is likely to hit $200 a barrel within the next 6 months to 2 years. Not a pretty thing to imagine.
But lo and behold when you actually hear the details of this machine it seems a little pointless and absurd. For one, to brew ethanol at home requires a special permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Two, it is currently illegal to run a car on 100% ethanol and the makers of this product are “hoping” that regulators will certify cars to run on all ethanol if their product becomes popular. Right, I won’t hold my breath on that one.
But most disturbing is this little tidbit that they conveniently left out of the news story we saw. It takes 10-14 pounds of sugar, 4 gallons of water and some proprietary yeast to make 1 gallon of ethanol. *Cough* *Cough* Um, what? So, let’s do some math. Let’s take my bohemeth gas guzzling Jeep Grand Cherokee (that needs to be replaced but we can’t afford to) for example. It has a 22 gallon tank. That is a minimum of 220 pounds of sugar for ONE tank of gas. Conservatively I need to fill up twice a month (less than the average American) so that is 440 pounds of sugar just for my one car. If we add in my husbands car we need another 500 pounds of sugar (he drives more for his commute). That is 940 pounds of sugar for one family, for one month or 11,280 pounds of sugar a year (excluding any cross-state trips that we take on a regular basis to visit family). That is a lot of sugar. Plus, sugar is expensive. On the news story we saw they advertised that it would only be a $1.70ish something to produce a gallon of ethanol. However, in the information I found online found that the cost of sugar (roughly $.20/lb), water and electricity used to make one gallon of ethanol would be pretty equivalent to the current cost of a gallon of gasoline. So where do they get the cheaper per gallon price from? Oh, that is if you buy the inedible sugar that can be bought from Mexico for 2.5 cents/lb through the recently approved North American Free Trade Agreement then it is closer to a dollar a gallon. So, let’s say I think that is a good idea (I don’t). How do I get and store 940 pounds of sugar per month for my family and who in the world is going to ship it to me…and how much will that cost? But that is personal cost. What is the cost to the environment and to other cultures? The amount of resources needed to ship that amount of sugar all over the United States seems monumental. And have we learned anything from the corn-ethanol problem? Who starves because we want more corn? More sugar? I think we’ve really got to stop using food sources as fuel. We’re also talking 140 gallons of water for a 35 gallon batch of ethanol. If someone were to make one batch a week that is 560 more gallons of water that is being consumed per month than was being used before. It’s not like they gave up their water consumption somewhere else.
Some other concerns:
-The yeast. No biggie until you read that it requires a new time-release yeast that the company has developed. So you will be buying yeast from the company and yes, it is proprietary. That sounds real “independent”. I’m sure even if you figured out how to get your hands on a different time released yeast that would work the company would “void” the warranty on the product. Not something I’d feel real comfortable doing knowing that it would cost me another $10,000 to get a new one.
-Nobody is mentioning the maintenance of these machines. What kind of maintenance do they require? Can you service it yourself? What is the life expectancy of these machines? Do they require special filters, hoses, etc and how often do you need to replace them?
-It takes a week to ferment 35 gallons of ethanol. For some people that process would be too long.
-I just don’t see how the government would allow this to persist for too long not to mention I could understand their concern. We all complain about the roads. The only way our government (currently) is able to maintain the roads is the tax placed on fuel. If no one is paying the tax there will be no money for road maintenance. I hardly doubt the government will sit idly by as we all stop paying a fuel tax.
-If the consumption of sugar goes up so will the prices. There isn’t enough “inedible” sugar to go around for every American that would like to make their own fuel
So bummer, another independency dream dashed. I’m glad people are inventing and figuring out solutions but I don’t think this is the one. Good thing there are lots of other neat ideas in the making and on the horizon…
Articles on the Micro Fueler by EFuel100: