Although it is possible to produce ethanol and biodiesel at home, and many actual food preparation machines either do it or have equipment ready to do it if the worst happens, there are many logistical, regulatory and safety implications that you need to consider before you start production.
Whether you’re just looking for alternative fuels or spend your days mulling over various apocalyptic scenarios, there are only two real options that work with technologies that we already have in our cars and trucks . Ethanol is the main non-petroleum substitute for gasoline, and biodiesel is an alternative to gasoline diesel that can be used in a diesel engine with little or no modification.
It’s worth noting that you’re most likely not going to save at home and earn ethanol or biodiesel instead of buying gasoline or gasoline at a gas station unless you have raw materials available for free.
Before you start
In terms of technology, making fuel at home requires a lot of knowledge, experience and potentially expensive raw materials, but the technology is quite simple. Silence is required for the production of fuel alcohol, and for the production of biodiesel, chemicals such as methanol and lye are required, but there is no real technology to speak of any other method of testing the final product.
The process of making ethanol at home is exactly the same as making moonshine liquor, so there are similar regulatory issues. If you’ve just installed a quiet one in your backyard, especially if your job is big enough to pump out any usable amount of ethanol fuel, you could be in trouble with the feds. For example, if you plan to produce more than 10,000 gallons of fuel alcohol within calendar years in United States , The Bureau the Liquor and Tobacco Department requires you to get a bond.
No matter how much fuel alcohol you produce, you must also denature it or render it unfit for human consumption by adding a substance such as kerosene or naphtha. This is what legally distinguishes alcohol on fuel from the kind of alcohol you drink, although it is sometimes possible to purify denatured alcohol using a similar process used primarily to distill alcohol.
Specific regulations for the manufacture and denaturation of fuel alcohol are available from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Other countries have different rules or no rules at all, so it is important to check local laws before starting such a project.
The other main difference between moonshine and fuel oil distillation is that ethanol intended for fuel needs to be more reliable than most ethanol intended for human consumption. Appropriate low water content can be achieved with multiple distillation passes, but there are also filters that are capable of removing the water content from fuel alcohol. In fact, some people who use ethanol in their vehicles use built-in filters to separate water and dirt that ethanol — which acts as a solvent — comes off the fuel tank and lines.
Making ethanol at home
The specific process of making fuel oil is similar to making any kind of alcohol . It starts with raw materials, which can be anything from corn and wheat (usually used to make bourbon) to rendered wood or Jerusalem artichoke. The feedstock is used to make a wort that ferments sugar and starch into alcohol, which is then passed through a glass.
The most efficient way to get fuel alcohol is to use another column, as you may need to run 10 or more passes through the pot to get a high enough proof. Not only is this energy inefficient, but it results in more ethanol wasted as some is wasted on each pass.
Obtaining raw materials for the production of fuel alcohol at home
The biggest problem with making fuel alcohol at home—either now or in some hypothetical, apocalyptic future—is the raw material. To create a wort that can be processed into fuel alcohol, you need a large amount of some kind of grain or other plant material. If you have a working farm, one option is to take the corn or other grains you have grown or harvested, use them to create a puree, and then use the leftover material to feed your livestock.
Another option is to grow a crop specifically for use in the production of fuel alcohol. Currently, corn is the main crop used for ethanol production in the United States, and each acre devoted to this use is capable of producing about 328 gallons of ethanol per year. Other crops such as millet can be much more effective. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, meadow paste yields have exceeded 500 gallons per acre, and ideal conditions could have resulted in over 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre of shrubland.
If you don’t have acreage to grow corn, millet, sugar beets, or whatever, then making fuel alcohol at home isn’t going to be a viable project.
Making biodiesel at home
First of all, it’s important to differentiate between cooking oil and biodiesel. Cooking oil, straight vegetable oil (SVO), waste vegetable oil (WVO) and similar, animal-derived products are all capable of powering a diesel engine, but they aren’t biodiesel. While cooking oil, SVO, and similar materials are simply collected and then used as fuel, biodiesel is altered to render it chemically similar to petrodiesel.
Although you can collect waste vegetable oil, or cooking oil, from local restaurants and run it in your car, you may need to modify your diesel engine to do so. Once the modification propers have been done, the process of “making” fuel out of cooking oil is extremely simple. In order to render used cooking oil fit for use as a fuel, all you have to do is filter out the particulate matter.
Making biodiesel from SVO or WVO is more complicated, and it involves “cracking” the chemical structure of the fats or oils using methanol and lye. The process isn’t particularly difficult, but it is important to take necessary precautions, as both methanol and lye are toxic substances.
The process of making biodiesel from SVO, in very basic terms, starts out by heating the oil. Precise amounts of methanol and lye are then mixed together and added to the oil, which facilitates a chemical process known as transesterification. The result of this process is that you end up with two products: biodiesel and glycerine, which separates and settles to the bottom of the mixture. Finally, the biodiesel has to be washed and dried before it is ready for use.