Gasoline Independence

A miniature ethanol distiller lets you make your own fuel--but can it possibly be a money saver?

The EFuel 100 MicroFueler

E-Fuel

For those looking to get themselves off the grid—or at least move toward that ideal—a number of options are currently available. You can tack solar panels onto the roof of your house. You can erect a small wind turbine in your yard. You can now even distill ethanol in your garage. The EFuel 100 MicroFueler is a device the size of two very large refrigerators which will convert 490 pounds of feedstock (sugar and yeast) into 35 gallons of ethanol over the course of a week. Plug it in to any standard outlet and it will consume 150 watts for each batch. But while the concept of manufacturing your own fuel sounds appealing on its face, I'm not entirely sure the numbers add up to make it worth it.

For starters, the machine will set you back $10,000 to purchase. You'll then need to buy between 350 and 490 pounds of feedstock to make your first batch. E-Fuel, the company marketing the device, is also planning to offer a program to buy discounted sugar feedstock at a cost of 15 to 30 cents a pound. It takes 10 to 14 pounds to produce a gallon of ethanol. Assuming your first batch costs the low end of 15 cents per pound and you need 10 pounds per gallon, you've already spent $1.50 on raw materials. Add in the cost of 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, the cost of the electricity, and the factor likely to be the real cost of the operation: the production and delivery of the sugar feedstock.

The company aims to keep the cost of ethanol less than $1 per gallon through its feedstock program, but I have a difficult time understanding how that's possible. Even with its recommendation that the end product be dilluted to 65%, the cost still does not approach the $1 mark.

Via SciAm