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Thread: Ethanol production/steam powered battery charging and misc projects finally under way

  1. #1
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    Default Ethanol production/steam powered battery charging and misc projects finally under way

    I've been waiting to make this post for nearly 4 years.

    I got interested in making my own ethanol 4-5 years ago. I did some research, filed for the federal permit to make it and bought most of what I needed.

    This is the still I purchased from Mile Hi Distilling:

    http://www.milehidistilling.com/Phot...ductCode=16110

    There are plans available on the internet to build your own and you could actually build your own reflux column still for as little as $200 using PVC pipe. I had originally bought the plans to build one from copper and just decided to take the easy way out and buy a high quality still all made of stainless.

    About the time I got everything ready I built a new house. In the regulations for producing ethanol it states that you can not produce the fuel in your home or a building attached to your home. This put everything on the back burner. I have become more and more self sufficient, growing a lot of my own food, raising some animals etc. and I needed some extra room. So this fall I decided it was time to put up a small barn to store some of my farm related stuff in. Construction was started:



    This was the framing stages of the barn, it's small 16'x24', I just wanted it large enough to do the job. I didn't take a finished picture, it's red steel siding, white steel trim, black steel roof. Inside has a white steel ceiling in it, nice loft area for storage with flooring.

    I have a growing desire to be less dependent on "the world". So my interest in using less utilities has grown too. When I finished the barn I needed electric but refused to tie it into the electrical grid. I had quite a few used EVO batteries here that customers never wanted. I wired them all together and installed them in the barn. I also installed all 12v lighting, radio etc. I wired in a 3000 watt power inverter for when I need 120v. This system has proven to be just kick ass. I run a 1/2 hp electric motor off the inverter to grind feed in a feed mill/feed bin I also built. It has worked flawlessly and I can't help but smile every time I'm out there knowing it's all running for free. in the spring I'll be putting in some solar panels I got from VWJeff that they use on VW's, this will keep the battery bank charged and should produce some extra power. For now I use a trickle charger to boost the batteries and I built a steam powered alternator set up I use to charge them too.

    Next in order to heat the building, boil the wash to produce the ethanol and make power for steam/electric generation I had to build a wood burner/boiler. Here's a picture of what I built:



    This was a 24" diameter 1/4" thick pipe casing they generally bury under ground. I had 24" dia. 1/4" thick round plates cut and welded them in. There's a burner box/clean out on the bottom. Then the water tank which holds about 60 gallons on top. I used an 8" diameter, 1/4" thick section of pipe for the chimney that runs from the burner box through the tank which adds considerable heating to the tank. It then runs out the roof of the building, obviously.

    While I was getting everything ready to make the ethanol I started messing with the boiler/water tank. On the top I used a 3.5" piece of stainless tubing and a Vband clamp for the fill section. This piece ended up housing a pressure/temp gauge, pop off pressure relief valve and two 3/4" pipe outlets. One runs to the still and the other side is used for steam output.

    If anyone's interested in how I produced electric with steam let me know and I'll answer, otherwise I won't get off on that topic any further right now.

    I plan to produce my ethanol from corn. Everything to do with the production of ethanol is temperature dependent. From the enzymes needed to break the starches down to sugars in the corn, the yeast activation, the boiler and the column temp. So for now I was so eager to get started I had a local winery make me about 40 gallons of wash. Wash is the "beer/wine" clean liquid that you cook the actual alcohol out of. So picture 40 gallons of Bud Lite, that's "wash".

    No I needed to transfer this 40 gallons of wash from the barrel it was fermented in to the top of my boiler. I bought a submersible 12v bilge pump and used that. This entire operation is set up so I don't have to rely on any outside power to run it. I pumped the 40 gallons of wash into the boiler and filled the wood stove section with wood. The fire was lit and then we waited. In less than an hour the wash was up to temp:



    That is the gauge on top of the boiler.

    Then shortly after the still got heat in it from the alcohol vapors:




    As soon as the gauge on the still hits 172 degrees the ethanol starts to flow:



    The white bucket is what I was using to hold the ethanol, the silver bucket on the ground catches the low proof run off.

    Next I pulled a sample to see what kind of content we were getting:



    I was disappointed to see only about 83%. This is 166 Proof if you were to drink it, which I have no desire to do. That means I was getting about 17% water. Ethanol has been successfully run down to about 60%, leaving the other 40% as water. I've read of guys who have run 96-98% but as hard as I tried throughout the process this weekend I couldn't get better than about 90%.

    The ethanol started out a brownish/yellow color which I blame on the boiler being rusty inside. Using a stainless boiler would be best but the expense kept me from building it all out of stainless. I may look into it further now that it's running as I have some other things I need to do, like dry the Zeolite and old corn mash, so I need a "cooking" surface for drying purposes.

    After a few gallons had run through the color of the ethanol turned to a gorgeous blue:



    I wanted to see how well it burned and put some in a pan, instantly lit, real nice odorless blue flame:



    I'll use this in my camp stove instead of dry gas or camp fuel now.

    There is a low proof outlet on the still, this is where the water drops out. You end up with quite a bit of this low proof and it can be distilled again to get the alcohol out of it.

    When I was done I ended up with about 5.5 gallons of good ethanol and another 3-4 gallons of low proof that I can run again. I had estimated when I started that I'd be able to get about 8 gallons of ethanol, that was of course in perfect conditions and being able to capture every single ounce of alcohol available. There is no perfect world! haha

    The still has a cooling inlet, this inlet is made for a garden hose, typically someone takes the garden hose from their house, runs it to the still and turns the water on. The top section has a steady stream of water running through it 100% of the time. The lower section is controlled by a heat dependent valve. I didn't want to waste a bunch of water or be tied to needing a garden hose. I took a 10 gallon square tank I had (old fuel jug holder for a car trailer) and put an outlet on it. I ran that to a 12v Surflow RV pump and then out of the pump to the still. The discharge out of the still I ran back into the tank. This worked really good for about the first hour we ran the still. After that the water got too hot and would no longer cool. At that point it was a fight to keep bailing the hot water out and adding new fresh cold water. We ended up using snow and just kept dumping snow in the tank to keep it cool.

    Let me back track a bit. When building the boiler/wood burner section my biggest concern was that regulating the wash temperature in the boiler was going to be a HUGE FIGHT. I thought I'd end up constantly opening/closing the damper door to regulate the temperature. Well I'm happy to say that an engineer couldn't have done the calculations on this and come out better. I filled the wood box when I started, got the wash up to 190 degrees and then closed the ash door/damper completely. Over the next 3 hours the fire was never touched nor was the damper. The water stayed at exactly 190 degrees, I don't think it moved 5 degrees either direction. I'd say I used less than 50 pounds of wood and I had perfect control over the temps of the boiler at all times with NO input.

    Now let me skip back forward. The cooling of the tower was no so easy, as I was explaining. It's obvious I need either a better way to keep the water cool or simply a much larger storage tank. I am going to first try to take one of our mini radiators and fans and run the water out of the still into the radiator and cool it and then run it back into the storage tank. If that doesn't work perfectly I will simply bury a large tank, 250 gallons or so, under ground and fill it, with that much water the temp won't change very much. That 10 gallons was just too little volume to regulate easily.

    I just bought a 200 bushel grain wagon, waiting to pick it up. This summer I'll be putting my own corn in and from here out I will use corn only to produce the ethanol. For me, personally, there is no better choice than corn as I can grow it, harvest it, grind it all by myself. I can then get ethanol out of it, dry the mash after it's been used and it then becomes DDGS (distillers dried grains and solubles) and I can use it for feed for animals or sell it off. The beauty of that is the DDGS is worth as much as the initial corn price, about $5 per bushel.

    It's a very interesting project and I've enjoyed the hell out of it from the beginning. I hope you guys find it interesting. Feel free to ask any questions you may have, it may spark an idea on my end or lead me to investigating something I haven't learned yet.
    Last edited by David Buschur; 01-24-2011 at 01:23 PM.
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  2. #2
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    this is kickass! i hope to become less "dependent" on such resources as well. Im very interested in how you are producing electric with steam...
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    David I am impressed!
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    Nice writeup David! I'd like to stop out at the house next time I'm up to check it out and get a better understanding how the process works.
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    The steam power. On the left side of the gauge with the red on it, you will see an outlet. I use that outlet for two different things. I run a hose to a piece of 3/4" OD copper tubing, that copper tube is rigid and straight and has holes drilled in it. I boil water and the steam is released into that tube, that tube is going to be put into the corn mash and is used to heat it up to activate the enzyme to break the corn down. Now the steam power is produced through that same port. I take that hose/copper tube assembly off and it's replaced with a rigid 3/4" steel pipe that runs to a GM Smog pump. The GM smog pump is mounted to a bracket I built that also has a GM alternator on it. The two are connected through a V-belt and pulleys. When the boiler builds up pressure I turn the valve on and release the pressurized steam into the smog pump and it makes a darn good steam engine. I've had as much as 13.1 volt and around 12 amps out of this set up. It works and charges my battery bank but to be honest, it's scary as hell!! I do not like messing with pressurized steam. I'm actually chicken shit about it.

    Here's the steam/electric generation working:

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Buschur View Post
    After a few gallons had run through the color of the ethanol turned to a gorgeous blue:

    When's the party? When it warms up a little I want to check this out. the whole thing looks to cool. I see a lot of potential for the steam generator.

    Also just bought some cool shit that we can go out on the back end of your lot and make some big explosions too.

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    Ron, you know you are welcome anytime, stop out whenever you want. The steam generator I was really interested in, I spent the most time working on that project actually and had a lot of poor results, very disappointing quite a few times actually. I tried to run it using a turbocharger actually, you should see that set up and money pit. I took a GT35r, Tial .63 turbine housing, machined a shaft to mount a 1/2" bore pulley on it, installed sealed roller bearings in it and then tried to power that alternator using that, HUGE failure there. You would need a LOT more steam than I could produce from this boiler to make it work, if it worked at all. Without the load of the alternator is spun pretty good but as soon as there was a load on it the steam just passed through and out the turbine wheel/housing. I then figured if that junk yard GM smog pump worked well that a racing 4 vane Moroso vacuum pump would work even better. $700 later I found out it would not, which just blew my mind. It seems the smog pump works the best although I have not tried an old style Frigidaire A/C compressor yet, those are suppose to be very good too. For now the alternator/smog pump are assembled and ready to use but stored under the bench in the barn. I'd like to take that smog pump apart and see how it works, possibly try to machine a better design on the exact same principle as it does work darn good.
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    Is there anything you can't do David?
    Quote Originally Posted by David Buschur View Post
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    WOW, very interesting Dave.

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    Haha, there's a lot I can't do. There's not a lot I won't try though!
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Buschur View Post
    Haha, there's a lot I can't do. There's not a lot I won't try though!
    Well have yet to prove my question otherwise.. keep it up!
    Quote Originally Posted by David Buschur View Post
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    freaking awesome!
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    Quote Originally Posted by shearer View Post
    When's the party? When it warms up a little I want to check this out. the whole thing looks to cool. I see a lot of potential for the steam generator.

    Also just bought some cool shit that we can go out on the back end of your lot and make some big explosions too.

    I wanna come blow shit up lol. Make sure I get the invite.
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    Nice write up Dave. Very interesting read.
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    I just got back from picking up some corn and a large gravity wagon..........I guess I'm officially-darn near- a farmer now! While I was out I had the guy at the winery start me another batch of wash. I can't wait to run it again. I think I've got a better grasp on it and this time I hope it's input free once I'm up to temperature. I'm going to start a batch from the corn I got today too.
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    When it comes time to harvest your crop let me know. All through high school growing up I hand picked corn from a local farm at the ass crack of dawn every morning. I hold the record for picking 500 dozen by myself in one working day lol.
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    500 dozen!? Damn I'll buy the beer, lunch and give you a dollar to boot! Haha
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    Mike @ AWD needs get him 1 of these

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    This has been and still is a huge learning process. I started trying to dry the rest of the water out of my ethanol. Trying to find out how to use this Zeolilte product I have proved to be pretty impossible. I called the company I bought it from, they had no idea.............not sure how you can sell something for 4 years or more and not know how to use it but he pointed me towards a forum on just producing FUEL (vs. moonshine to drink) and I found my answers. Unfortunately I also found out the Zeolite needed to be washed first and then used, which I didn't do. Now I have a contaminated batch of ethanol. The contamination is dust and such so I filtered it and I'm going to run it all through another filter again before using it.

    Tonight we are going camping, I'm going to take some along with me for my camp stove. I used it already for this to make sure it works and it worked great.
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    Thats so awsome bro!
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