Tuesday, April 29, 2008

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The Other White Liquor

Mr. Quinn sometimes collects left-over alcohol
from bars and restaurants in Los Gatos, Calif.,
where he lives, and turns it into ethanol...

~ Michael Fitzgerald

I’m a little unclear on the concept of “left-over” alcohol, but the rest of a Sunday article in the New York Times left me musing.

The piece was about Floyd Butterfield and Thomas Quinn, two Californians who have joined forces to produce and market their home ethanol production system, the E-Fuel 100 MicroFueler. According to the Times, “It will be about as large as a stackable washer-dryer, sell for $9,995 and ship before year-end.”

There’s certainly an overlap of those ethanol distillers who make spirits to drink and those who make fuel for tractors, farm equipment, or their own vehicles. In my experience, though, while those making for fuel aren’t opposed to taking a nip now and then, they truly are interested in it for the fuel.

Those who distill for drinking, on the other hand, might joke about their stuff being strong enough to run a car, but would be loathe to pour their hand-crafted rye whiskeys, peach brandies, applejacks, and delicate eaux de vie in their gas tanks.

Just different outlooks.

With gasoline over $4 a gallon where I live, Butterfield and Quinn’s claims of being able to produce auto fuel for as little as $1 per gallon makes the MicroFueler an intriguing option. Of course, their figures are disputed (as alternate energy strategies usually are), but the rebuttal is that by using “inedible sugar” from Mexico at under three cents a pound, such numbers are possible.

Ethanol for fuel is not a new topic. Researchers at UMass Amherst have developed a method of rapidly heating cellulose to yield fuel that could eventually cost around $1 per gallon as well (they are at 50% proficiency so far, which sounds like $2 a gallon gasoline, which I haven’t seen in a few years). It's no home fuel plant, but if they can work out the bugs, the price point is attractive.

Hmmmm….with inedible Mexican sugar and turbo yeast from Sweden, American moonshiners could be set to make the cheapest rotgut shine possible since their grandfathers’ days.

Be aware, though, that even for distilling fuel, you’d need a permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. According to the TTB’s website, “Federal law provides for the issuance of Alcohol Fuel Plant (AFP) permits for persons who intend to produce, process, store, use or distribute distilled spirits exclusively for fuel use.” You can download an application packet here for a small alcohol fuel plant (AFP) if you’ve got plans to open an operation for less than 10,000 gallons per year — or if you’re just curious about these things.



camper said...

The "leftover liquor" line stuck out when I read it too. Maybe that's just because I'm eco-sensitive and hate to see booze go to waste.

Matthew Rowley said...

I'm with you, Camper. Though when we were leaving Celedon, a Thai restaurant in San Diego, last night I did notice that the woman sitting next to me had left about an ounce and half of her cocktail. I'll be damned: leftover liquor. Apparently, such things exist.

Matthew Rowley said...

Looks like the Microfueler is available online now...