Community Sized Ethanol Fuel, A Grassroots Energy Solution
By Jeff Lindow Dec. 2012 www.ethanolspirits-sustainable.com
In 1925 Henry Ford said, “The Fuel of the Future is Alcohol.”
Ford was talking about ethyl alcohol, also called grain alcohol or ethanol. This type of alcohol is not only the active ingredient in adult drinks but was also a popular motor fuel at that time. Ford initially made cars that could run on alcohol or gasoline or a mixture of both (FFV). Alcohol at that time was about 6 times the price of gasoline. Prohibition prohibited the manufacture of alcohol in 1920. Since there was none for fuel Ford stopped making Flex Fuel Vehicles but he announced in the New York Times (see article at left) that he still believed that alcohol was the fuel of the future. A couple years after Ford stopped making FFV cars prohibition ended.
Many of us who have studied history and have made and used ethyl alcohol as fuel agree with him. And in view of the way alcohol fuel is today being made and used we have come to believe that prohibition was as much about eliminating a competitive fuel source as it was about preventing drunkenness. That may also explain why so many ethanol fuel distilleries are owned by the petroleum industry.
My purpose is to show how increased use of ethanol fuel and other bio fuels can solve many of America’s problems in the following ways. It can:
Reduce climate change
Be cleaner, safer, and cheaper per mile than gas.
Create local jobs making fuel and building efficient ethanol vehicles.
Make fuel from waste and non-food crops.
Be made now with existing technology.
Run existing vehicles with minimal adjustments.
Our Family Business, The Fire Place Energy Center, has been a proponent of sustainable energy since the late 1970s. We presented on the benefits of bio-fuel at Bill Clinton’s Climate Change Roundtable in 1994. In August of 2012 we presented to the chairman of the education committee at the capital in Madison about the need for better public information about renewable fuels. More on this soon.
We make and use bio-ethanol as fuel. We use it in our cars and lawnmowers and generators and chainsaw. We see that it can, and should, be a big part in our quest for clean energy independence. Our goal is to teach the advantages of ethanol as fuel as well as to address the myths and misconceptions. We run classes and workshops giving hands on instruction on making and using this fuel. We have exhibited and presented our small scale production and utilization technology at the MREA Energy Fair at Custer WI., and at the Green Drive Expo in Madison WI. For more go to our website http://www.ethanolspirits-sustainable.com
We can show you how it is possible, with old technology and non-food ingredients, to get into the transportation fuel business.
See us make fuel with leftovers at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBLhwlaNU4U
Why is Bio-Ethanol the solution to climate change?
Because bio-fuels are made from plants, growing the plants in the first place takes more greenhouse gases out of the air than is released when the fuel is burned. You get more than twice the amount of fuel energy from ethanol than it takes to grow, harvest and refine it. The more ethanol is used to replace gasoline, the cleaner the air and water will become.
Ethanol is easy to make. Farmers used parts available in the early 1900s to build distillers to make fuel for their cars and tractors. When it became illegal, Moonshiners built distilleries out in the woods that could make thousands of gallons a year. An article that appeared in The Joplin Globe, September 29, 1991 reported, “the now defunct Licensed Beverage Industries, Inc., which represented legal distillers, said that between 1950 and 1969, one billion gallons of illegal moonshine were produced nationwide.” Since gasoline was plentiful and cheap at that time this illegal ethanol was for recreational purposes rather than fuel.
Ethanol can be made from most anything that grows. We have enzymes that can make ethanol fuel from waste paper.
If there happened to be a big ethanol spill, there would be no need for an expensive cleanup. Ethanol is biodegradable and would cause minimal harm to the environment before it was completely gone.
Why is ethanol better, safer, and cleaner fuel than gasoline? http://pubs0392.usgs.gov/bul/0392/report.pdf
The above link is to a Report by Robert M Strong on a study the United States Geological Survey published more than 100 years ago of some 2000 comparison tests of motor fuel, ethyl alcohol vs. gasoline. At the time the comparison tests were done ethanol was 3 to 6 times the price of gasoline but the tests concluded it was better, safer, and less obnoxious. People did use it, therwise Ford wouldn’t have built cars that could run on it. Today ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. The tests also concluded that gasoline could only be run in engines that were designed for gasoline. Alcohol, however, can be used satisfactorily in engines built for gasoline or for kerosene and will give more power but less fuel economy. An engine designed for ethanol gets the best fuel economy but can only be run on ethanol.
We have found that the 10% mixture found at most gas pumps is the least desirable mix because it goes bad quicker than other mixtures and, for drivers unschooled in how to drive with ethanol fuel, results in fewer miles per gallon. We, and others who use ethanol, have learned how any car can get the best fuel economy by useing 30 to 35 percent alcohol with no damage to the cars. These same cars with minor modification can run on pure ethanol, or any mixture of ethanol and gas.
A car that is designed to run on straight ethanol should go about twice as far on a tank of fuel as a similar gasoline car, but it could not be run on gasoline. Indy race cars run on ethanol and their fuel consumption at 200 mph suggests (cube square law) that if they were designed to run at normal highway speeds they would be getting about 50 miles per gallon.
Ethanol fuel can be stored for many years without going bad. Gasoline goes bad in months.
Ethanol fuel used in small engines such as lawnmowers, generators, chainsaws etc. cuts emissions of dangerous carbon monoxide by more than 90%. Small engines that were built to run only on alcohol would cut emissions even more and increase fuel economy.
How can increased utilization of ethanol fuel create local jobs?
Beyond the obvious need for people to grow and make it is the fact that no company in this country produces vehicles that are designed to run well on ethanol fuel. Flex fuel vehicles that are sold in the USA are designed to perform the best on gasoline.
To get the best performance and economy out of an ethanol fueled vehicle it needs to have a higher compression engine and higher speed gears in the transmission to take advantage of the much higher(113) octane rating of ethanol fuel.
We also need trained mechanics to modify the myriads of small engines that people use for everyday outdoor chores. Engines that run at a constant speed are easy to convert to alcohol and doing so will reduce carbon monoxide emissions by over 90%.
Alcohol is also a cleaner and safer fuel for home heating than oil or gas.
There are alcohol fueled heating appliances available but more manufacturers are needed.
Alcohol can be used for lighting and is cleaner, less toxic, and safer than kerosene.
What can be used to make ethanol fuel?
Much of the reluctance of many people to support alcohol as fuel comes from the fact that what it is made from can also be used as food. One of the most common questions 🙁 Second only to “Can you drink it??“:- ) we get asked when we talk about ethanol production is “What do you prefer to use?” Our answer is always, “Whatever we can get for free.” According to the USDA almost half of the food in the United States gets thrown away. Every community should have an ethanol plant that converts these otherwise wasted carbohydrates into fuel. It would be similar to a recycling or to a trash to energy program. Wisconsin fields produce piles of spuds and pumpkins, apples and berrys, that are deemed unacceptable for human consumption and are plowed under.
As for as a crop to be grown for bio fuel production, I am most impressed with a group that is concentrating on growing cattails from which to make ethanol. Wild cattails are hard to harvest but it should be possible to domesticate this hardy plant that grows everywhere and to create revolving wetlands similar to Wisconsin’s cranberry marshes. The research and testing that was done and is being done has been compiled by Peggy Korth in her book, Small Scale Energy and Fuel Production. Her research and plans for setting up a business turning cattails into motor fuel can be found here. The book also addresses the fact that cattails, grown for fuel can, in doing so, also help clean sewage. Order her book at http://waterc3.com/
How is ethanol made?
Henry Ford said that there is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. 82 years later his great grandson William Clay Ford reiterated the urgency of perfecting cellulosic conversion that can let us distill sawdust, wastepaper and grass clippings for extended ethanol production. This is true. We have enzymes that can convert waste paper to ethanol. But for our purposes at this time we are going to focus on the process of converting starches and sugars into fuel.
Fermentation is the process in which ethanol is produced by feeding sugar to a culture of single cell organisms called yeast. The yeast eats the sugar and produces ethanol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide (CO2) can be released into greenhouses and will speed up the growth of vegetation. It can be sold to carbonated beverage factories at a fairly good price. Although baking yeast and brewers yeast only produce up to about 7% alcohol, modern fuel grade yeast cultures can produce concentrations of ethanol well above 20%.
All green plants use the energy from sunshine to turn water and CO2 into sugar. They use the sugar for their metabolic processes or they further convert the sugar to starch which can be stored for longer times, like over the winter. Both sugar and starch can be easily made into fuel grade ethanol. Apples, sugar beets, sugar cane, sorghum and a long list of other sweet fruits have been used to make ethanol. Many small scale distillers use sugary things that are being thrown away by various businesses such as candy factories, grocery stores, and restaurants. Free is always best and using stuff that would otherwise go to a landfill is always good.
If starch crops are to be used, the starch must be converted back to sugar. The plants do this themselves when in the spring they make enzymes to convert the starch back to the sugar that they use for the energy to grow again. Barley seeds will make about ten times the amount of enzymes they need and home brewers take advantage of this to make beer. Commercially made enzymes can be purchased and are often preferred for producing more consistent results. Grains have been traditionally used as a source of starch from which to make ethanol. The recipes to convert the various grains are fairly well known and published. Root crops like potatoes have been Widely used to produce alcohol.
The cartoon shown at right portrays part of the process by which corn is turned into a liquid on which we can run our car. About 20 lb of grain will make a gallon of 190 proof ethanol which is fine for fuel. An average acre of corn in Wisconsin can produce about 250 gallons a year.
The Distillation System
Combined Sequential Distillation is used to separate ethanol from water in a solution of beer or wine or mead or anything else containing ethanol.
This Prototype, “The Silver Cloud” , shown at left, is versatile and has proven that it is capable of utilizing either sugar or starch crops or any type of food waste that contains starch or sugar.
At a production rate of 15,000 gallon per year a system like this is enough to fulfill the transportation needs of about a dozen average families. Pushed to the theoretical limit it could make 36,000 gallons annually.
If only smaller amounts of fuel are to be needed the distiller can be used as a stand alone production system without any external fermentation and cooking apparatus. In this configuration the system can produce about 50 gallons a week or 2500 gallons a year.
Midway, Vollan Oil Company (left} is a family owned Ethanol Producer just North of Sioux Falls. They sell directly to the community and offer blends of fuel containing 10, 20, 30, 50, 85, and 98 percent ethanol. They tell me that their most popular blend is 30% ethanol. We are guessing that the community has learned the secret of getting the best fuel mileage with non-FFV vehicles.
The bottom Line
Five years ago I was as skeptical as anyone about the viability of ethanol as a solution to today’s energy and environmental problems. But I did my own research and testing and am now convinced that any community or neighborhood that wants to be secure in their energy independence should at least look very seriously at biofuels as part of the answer. I am looking for work with a company, community, or individual that can see the short and long term benefits of a sustainable energy community. I am currently demonstrating to our local Amish community that their small engines can be easily modified to use cleaner safer ethanol.
The corporations and government agencies are not going to do this for us but this is a transportation energy source that we can make ourselves .
Contact Jeffre W Lindow
715 683 2540