Make Your Own Fuel?

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:

EFuel – The company that makes the Micro Fueler

PhysOrg

Reuters

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12 comments

  1. Jeff Heaton · June 27, 2009

    Our economy is sinking fast because it is based on an antiquated system of financial exploitation and war. We do not have free markets and we do not have fair competition in the markets. Corporations are money making machines whose sole purpose is to feed off of our socialized infrastructure while destroying the environment. Developing alternative approach’s to making our own energy at home is our greatest hope to reversing this trend.
    Right now gasoline cost around $3:00 per gallon at the pump and another $2.50 per gallon in subsidizes to the oil companies. So every time we drive our automobiles we are really spending over $5 a gallon. If we all had to pay over $5 a gallon for gasoline at the pump, things would change very quickly.
    On top of that you need to add in the cost of the 850 military bases we have scattered
    around the globe who’s primarily purpose is to protect the profits of transnational
    corporations. To be fair also need to add in the cost of cleaning up global warming and
    other types of ground and air pollution from using gasoline. And finally we need to figure in the cost of the war in Iraq. That makes the real cost of taking your kids to soccer another $10.00 per gallon paid for from subsidized deficit spending that our kids and grandkids will have to pay back with interest, pay back in inflation and in some cases pay back with their lives. I am the curator of the Crosses of Lafayette Afghanistan and Iraq War Memorial so I meet many veterans and Gold Star Parents who have lost their friends and family in our endless war for oil.

    This is how corporations manipulate our laws and legal system to privatize their profits and socialize their losses. Corporations have no soul but they are afforded the same legal rights as individuals who just happen to live forever.
    Remember all of those futuristic science fiction movies about machines that
    take over the world and destroy mankind. Well guess what, we are there. Clearly the alternative is for all of us to invest in sustainable infrastructure. An
    investment in sustainable infrastructure means an investment that pays us
    back over and over and over.
    Applying the principals of permaculture to agriculture, energy and the economy is our only hope for creating a sustainable infrastructure.
    Take the example of sewage. We all have it, nobody likes it, so what do we do with it? It turns out that cattails love sewage. In fact cattails love sewage so much that
    when you run sewage through a field of cattails, the end result is clean
    water.
    Not only that but cattails can produce 7,500 gals of ethanol fuel per acre.
    It would only take 1.5% of our marginal farm land to produce enough ethanol
    to power all of our transportation needs in the United States.
    If we all installed flex fuel devises in our automobiles and started using
    ethanol instead of gasoline, air pollution would be reduced by 98%. Our car
    engines would last three times longer so we would not have to go into debt
    buying a hybrid from a foreign country. CO2 emissions would be cut in half. And for every pound of co2 that goes into the atmosphere from using ethanol ( liquid solar energy ) 2 ½ times that much co2 is sequestered by the roots and stalks of plants that are recycled into organic compost and top soil. Another vital resource corporations are quickly depleting.
    The hang up is that the department of energy estimates that switching to ethanol would create 26 million new jobs that can not be exported overseas. That means no obscene profits for the CEOs of transnational corporations. War profiteers don’t like that because there are no terrorist who are going to attack fields of cattails fertilized with
    sewage.
    Another potential source of ethanol fuel is kelp. Off the California coast
    line we could grow enough kelp to power 1/3rd of the cars, trucks and
    bus’s in the entire United States. I also doubt terrorist would want to invade our coastlines full of kelp.
    Many areas of the ocean no longer support fish and plant life due to the high level of nitrogen in the run off from factory farms. Kelp or kombu can grow up to 18” per day when fertilized with waste nitrogen. This approach would restore the oceans and bring them back to life by increasing the level of oxygen in the water..
    We need to use the science of permaculture to terra form the earth in a way that restores the natural environment, produce local renewable energy and feed the world. This will also have the effect of redistributing the wealth by creating jobs for the maximum number of average folks. Otherwise we will become a prison planet where democracy is a thing of the past. The first step is to stop buying $500 billion dollars of oil from dictators in the Middle East and South America who hate us.
    Several weeks ago the governor of California was in a press conference advocating for a new gismo called the E100 Micro-fuelers as one of many solutions to our states energy problems. The E100 makes it possible for socially concerned citizens to make their own ethanol at home for around $1 a gallon assuming they can purchase industrial grade sugar for 3 cents a pound or use waste wine and beer.
    What Arnold forgot to mention that it is against the law to buy and install a flex fuel converter in California because back in the 80s when lots of people started using natural gas in automobiles some of the flex fuel devices did not work very well. So the gas lobbies made it illegal to install flex fuel devices in California even though they are presently being installed all over the United States.
    The California EPA says it will take a long time for them to change the rules about flex fuel devices. Meaning they don’t give a damn because cleaning up the environment is not their main gig.
    I am involved in a 7 billion dollar law suit against the EPA because they will not let our company recycle the minerals out of the acid mine drainage that is flowing coming out of the aquifers of Iron Mountain Mines near Redding California.
    Many of the minerals that can be recycled on Iron Mountain are being imported from China. Many of the minerals could be used to make solar panels and advanced electric car batteries. Many of the minerals could be used as a catalyst to convert cellulosic materials such as lawn clippings, waste paper and wood chips into ethanol.
    Instead of recycling the minerals the EPA has hired AIG to turn the acid mine drainage into high density sludge that they plan to store behind a huge dam at the top of Iron Mountain for the next 3000 years! Another Tennessee style EPA disaster in the making.
    The only way we are going to stop big money corporations from owning our legislators and destroying our jobs and environment is to make an end run around their evil plans to dominate us all. Switching to ethanol is the best way I can think of to create a positive change on all levels. It is something we can all participate in and for a very little investment compared to the alternatives.
    Jeff Heaton of Lafayette California.

  2. max kamperin · February 9, 2009

    You can recycle the water you use in ethanol production, and once you have the yeast you like you can grow all you need by feeding it sugar.

  3. ronpin · July 30, 2008

    (FYI: New email reply from E-Fuel 7/29/08)

    “Thank you for your inquiry. E-Fuel sugar will not be the same as that you find in retail for human consumption. Our sugar will be unrefined, excess and distressed sugar not suitable for ingestion. Over the coming months E-Fuel will announce distributors who will provide the sugar for pick up or delivery. This sugar will be pre-mixed with our yeast and nutrient additive for optimal fermentation results in the MicroFueler. Part of the company’s vision includes tapping into the current worldwide surplus of distressed sugar (unfit for human consumption) and packaging it exclusively for ethanol production. MicroFueler owners utilizing E-Fuel’s global relationships to purchase distressed sugar, along with our carbon credit program, can produce ethanol at the anticipated cost of $1 or less per gallon. None the less, with human grade sugar we expect the cost to be $0.15 to $0.25 per pound and with our carbon credit program reduce that by half. With distressed sugar our expectation is to reduce by half again. This coupled with the recently passed Farm Bill of 2008 where excess sugar destined for ethanol production is to be sold to packagers and wholesalers for $0.02/lb makes for a very compelling scenario.”

  4. Ruan · June 24, 2008

    Good morning

    I would just like to find out more about fuel in South Africa, We’re currently using a 95 octain unleaded fuel, would I be able to
    make my own fuel with our still and products in South Africa. If you could please let me know on what I’ll need and just a little more info
    of how it’ll work.

    I thank you in advance

    Ruan Maartens
    South Africa

  5. Eric · June 8, 2008

    Your analysis is spot on. Ethanol is not the long-term solution however, due to its energy output compared to other fuels currently being developed, primarily butanol. I would encourage you to visit http://www.butanol.com for a comparison of the properties.

  6. ronpin · May 23, 2008

    Two things — Tom’s spin on raw sugar as “inedible sugar” seems a bit cheap — simply to avoid the whole food vs. fuel issue.

    However, toting 1000 lbs of sugar (20 50lb bags) a month isn’t really a show stopper for most healthy men (with a backyard shed to work with) — considering the benefit derived here (shipping costs notwithstanding)

    The real show-stopper is the blatant protectionist tariffs and the NAFTA violation here.

    I guess if I were a poor farmer — I might think differently. Sadly it’s the rich/corporate farmers who gain the most here.

    I’ll be ferreting-out the true price of raw sugar from Mexico — looking for any loophole. I might even try to summarize the issue for my congress-person — maybe some help there?

    At any rate we all know our best hope is the electric car.

  7. journeytocrunchville · May 22, 2008

    Ron, I appreciate your honesty and came to the same conclusion. I think most people look at this idea and realize it just isn’t going to take off in the way that this company hopes. But coming from Tom’s position I can see how vested he, and others within the company, would be in believing the hype.

  8. ronpin · May 19, 2008

    I could only find the term “Inedible sugar” used to describe “raw sugar”.

    The new Farm Bill (passed May 14, 2008) arbitrarily negates the final phase-out of NAFTA sugar tariffs. These tariffs do include “raw sugar” (I checked).

    Our government simply will not allow our domestic sugar producers to be undersold. Raw sugar *is* cheaper than refined sugar — but the tariffs are designed so that we cannot save any money by buying from Mexico. 2.5 cent/lb sugar is now very unlikely.

    Pres. Bush *will* veto the new Farm Bill on May 23 — but a rare congressional override is already certain. Too bad. Sugar prices would have plumented in the ensuing oversupply from imports. 2.5 cents per pound is now very unlikely — thanks to the Farm Bill (not Tom’s fault!)

    I too have been a “wild-eyed-hair-on-fire” entreprenuer. Absolute objective honesty becomes “honestly relative” in that condition.

    Tom is likely “creating reality” — as entreprenuers must do. Only time will tell how much of it will “stick”. Meanwhile most of us can’t afford to gamble with him.

    God Bless all the would-be heroes (God blessed me “anyway” too! ;) )

  9. Jessica · May 15, 2008

    Tom,

    I really appreciate the time that you took to stop by and comment. Thank you for defining how the permits can be obtained and the legality of ethanol production on a smaller scale.

    Yes, sugar can be obtained for cheaper. I get that. It’s nice how you gave specifics as to how. But frankly it doesn’t address the sheer consumption of sugar needed, where a typical consumer would store that much sugar and the increased shipping freight that would need to occur. Because who really has room to store 1000 pounds of sugar a month? Well, the really well to do people certainly do but I imagine they are much more capable of affording current gasoline prices than the average American. This also doesn’t sound very conceivable for city dweller and those that live in more urban areas whose own apartments are about the size of a standard suburban livers garage.

    Ethanol is a simple process, relatively. I never said it wasn’t.

    You also didn’t address maintenance of the machines and if they can be maintained by the owner or if they will need to be serviced by a “professional”. Also, what are the parts of the machine (if any) that will need to be replaced on a regular basis, etc.

    Again, thanks for the comments :)

  10. Tom · May 15, 2008

    I work at E-Fuel thus have some knowledge about MicroFueler.
    1) US Federal permits to produce under 10k gallons of ethanol can be obtain by any property owner “free” and within 3 weeks of filing two page form. On restriction unit must be operated outside the structure you live in. Froms ca be found at http://www.fuel100.com
    2) It is not illegal to operate E100 ethanol in your vehicle when you produce yourself. EPA does not monitor ethanol production under 10k gallons for personal use.
    3) You can buy efuel carbon credits on efuel100 website that discount sugar feedstock as much as 80% that will reduce ethanol under $1 dollar per gallon.
    4) You can also pick up discarded liquor from restaurants in you town for free, they are tossing thousands of alcohol away, and make ethanol for 10 cents a gallon. See our website for example. You can even find free sugar water from soft drink mfrs in your area, they are also tossing thousands of gallons down the drian. There is no excuse in the statment that it will cost too much to make your own ethanol.
    5) There’s also more sugar in the world than any other feedstock, if you check the price of sugar it’s been coming down not up over the years. If efuel used only the surplus sugar from 2007 (which couldn’t be sold) our sales would be the size of Exon Mobile – that’s how much sugar is laying around the world. US makes less sugar now than it did 25 years ago.
    6) Thousands of Americans have been making home ethanol for that past 75 years. It’s 3rd grade science to make ethanol by putting sugar, water and yeast together. To make fuel ethanol you must remove the water, which our membrane does better than commerical ethanol plants.
    7) Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline right in your tank or if used exclusively mixed with water to help reduce your cost. E100 ethanol has 120 octane thus plenty of power that your car can’t use unless it has high performance.

  11. journeytocrunchville · May 12, 2008

    No kidding! I couldn’t agree more. I like that people are being innovative but c’mon! How could you possibly believe that, that much sugar consumption is a good idea? And realistically, who could even store that much sugar? We are blessed to have a garage the idea isn’t even conceivable for a city dweller.

  12. patriciaholdenmd · May 12, 2008

    Good points. And though I agree that people figuring out solutions is a good thing, it’s becoming like a hit-or-miss situation. They should give it a bit more thought.

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