Can Ethanol Replace Gas? What About Small Scales Of Application?

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by RusticBohemian, Aug 22, 2011.

  1. RusticBohemian

    RusticBohemian Junior Member

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    I recently read the interesting Alcohol Can Be Gas, which more or less flies in the face of the usual ethanol opinion, which is that it can only be destructive, wasteful, and has no potential to scale up for replacing the world's gas use.

    I'm wondering what fellow permies think of David Blume's approach (ethanol production, when done in a permie way, can easily replace gas and not take up too much growing room).

    Most permies and transition town types seem to think we have no ability to replace the fast-disappearing oil we rely on, and imagine a future without many of the luxuries and technologies fueled by gas.

    Thoughts?

    Practical Experience With Small Scale Ethanol?

    The second half of this is wondering if small-scale farms of say 5-10 acres could produce enough great ethanol-suitable plants for a small-scale distiller to supply the farm with its fuel needs.

    In the future I plan to buy a 5-acre farm in the tropics and plant it as a diverse food forest for myself. I'm wondering if it's realistic to be able to get enough of one type of good crop to make ethanol to fuel a car or truck I would own.

    Anyone produce ethanol on a small farm?
     
  2. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Senior Member

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  3. TheDirtSurgeon

    TheDirtSurgeon Junior Member

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    It's perfectly feasible on a smaller scale, up to a local cooperative. Think crop wastes and coppiced firewood for cooking... solar distilling.... Ethanol production is just one of those things that doesn't scale up too high very well. If we look at how it's currently produced in the US -- large scale chemically intensive and mechanized corn farming, trucking, using natural gas in the plants, and then faced with having to make anhydrous ethanol for blending with gasoline -- yeah, it's insane, and folks quite rightly point out that it's not sustainable or green. But there's more than one way to skin a cat. For a car running straight ethanol, you don't need it anhydrous. 160 proof is fine.

    Ford's Model T had an adjustable timing control, so it could burn either gasoline or ethanol. Ethanol was the main fuel used in rural areas at the time, due to lack of gasoline availability. Ford and GM now act like "Flex Fuel" is some kind of new technology. I laugh. :)
     
  4. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    It already has replaced gas in Brazil when they declared energy independence from the world. No other country has done it since, I believe none want to for fear of screwing with the status quo & its horrid mindset of a throw away society.

    Oh, and I plan to make some eventually with apples! :D

    Apple cider, distilled into Applejack, and then into fuel!
     
  5. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

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    Occupation:
    Farm manager/ educator
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    Hunter Valley New South Wales
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    warm temperate - some frost - changing every year
    I have no doubt that technologies will and perhaps arrive to overcome some of the difficulties we face but believe the root cause of our problems come from over consumption and and the way we can best "care for the earth" is to lead a simplier life style which we have shown at Purple Pear can be fun and rewarding.
    To continue to look for ways to consume is missing an opportunity but that is not to say that it can not be part of the future.
     
  6. adrians

    adrians Junior Member

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    people are already acheiving >95% ethanol with simple distillation, I beleive a setup can be made or had for a few hundred dollars, I'm not sure if that can be used in an engine at that %, though I've read that the final few % of water can be removed using a mineral "zeolite" with selected properties and are called "molecular sieves". It is available on ebay.

    No reason why sugar beet or sugar cane couldn't be grown in large quantities for fermenting and distilling.

    There are forums and websites on distilling, it is legal for home "consumption" in new zealand.
     
  7. TheDirtSurgeon

    TheDirtSurgeon Junior Member

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    160 proof (80%) is sufficient for motor fuel. The 20% water does not separate from the ethanol, and actually provides some benefit to the engine in terms of denser air/fuel charge (more power, efficiency) and combustion cooling.

    The only reason for anhydrous (99%+) ethanol is blending with gasoline. Any water will separate because water and gasoline won't mix... and it results in various fuel system nightmares. This is used for various mixtures (here in the USA anyway) from E85 to the cold-climate winter mixtures of 10% ethanol/90% gasoline for oxygenation.

    Given the extreme measures required to extract the last 5-10% water from ethanol, it seems an enormous waste of energy to blend fuels. A vehicle modified for straight ethanol fuel can take it right from the still to the tank.
     
  8. adrians

    adrians Junior Member

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    thanks for letting us know about that.. do you know what modifications are required to run say 90% ethanol?
     
  9. TheDirtSurgeon

    TheDirtSurgeon Junior Member

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    Yes. :)


    Added:

    I was going to leave it at that, since I answered the direct question... but I'll do better. If you're capable of wrenching on cars, there are all kinds of books out there. If you don't know what a crankshaft is, perhaps it would be better to start at the bottom. In either case, it's more involved than what a couple of yokels on a forum (like me) can tell you in two paragraphs.

    Just for starters, it depends on the vehicle. Carburetor? Fuel injection? What type of ignition system? Want a bare minimum conversion? Or build an engine from the ground up to take advantage of ethanol's characteristics? There just isn't an adequate way to explain it all unless the audience are gearheads already.
     
  10. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Ahhh Dirt Surgeon - there's a saying around here that the answer to everything in permaculture is "it depends". I think you have just proven yourself to be a fully fledged permie!
     
  11. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    I agree - "it depends" :)

    but also I suspect "more organic matter" will constitute part of the answer :D
     
  12. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Don't you start a fight about chemically testing your ethanol mix to make sure it is balanced. I'll have to come down there and sort you out if you do!
     
  13. TheDirtSurgeon

    TheDirtSurgeon Junior Member

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    Well now... Grahame might be on to something here. Higher Brix aka sugar content in your ethanol feed stock will result in more ethanol per bushel/ton/acre/whatever.

    But that depends... on...

    More organic matter!

    Brilliant!
     
  14. aslanded

    aslanded Junior Member

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    time and priorities...and resources

    I also bought the book, alcohol can be a gas. It was one of my daydream fuel books while I was working in the city to cash up for the country. When I got to my property I was way to busy planting and building to even consider it. I'm back in the city making cash and daydreaming again and typing stuff in forums when I'm on the bus. When I am on the ka.d I'm working 12 hour days to try to get it all happening...one of these days ill get to the Lou.t of building a still!
     
  15. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Hello aslanded! Haven't heard from you for a bit. Nice to have you back. I'm sure you are missing your land, but we like when you are on the bus typing!
     

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