Popular Mechanics bills the Micro Fueler from E-Fuel as “the first ethanol kit for brewing backyard biofuels on the cheap” — but it’s not a cheap way to produce fuel; it’s a cheap way to produce moonshine:
This morning, the E-Fuel Corporation, a Silicon Valley startup, introduced the first ethanol refinery system designed for home use. The Micro Fueler, a backyard fueling station, can create pure E100 ethanol from sugar feed stock. “It’s third-grade science,” says Thomas Quinn, founder and CEO of E-Fuel. “You just mix together water, sugar and yeast, and in a few hours, you start getting ethanol.” The $9995 Micro Fueler has a can fill its own 35-gallon tank in about a week by fermenting the sugar, water and yeast internally, then separating out the water through a membrane filter.
E-Fuel representatives claim that the initial cost of the machine can be offset by up to 50 percent by federal, state and local credits, and the cost of raw sugar can be brought down to $1 or below through a system of carbon trading coupons. The Micro Fueler can produce a gallon of ethanol from about 10 gallons of sugar.
Quinn dismisses many of the preconceptions about ethanol — lower gas mileage, long-term damage to automotive fuel systems and the need for a “flex-fuel” car — as just myths. Quinn claims that the E100 from the Micro Fueler can be mixed with ordinary gasoline, or even water to a 70/30 ratio — and still maintain a high-enough octane level to provide plenty of power for ordinary vehicles.
The Micro Fueler is for sale now, with deliveries expected by the fourth quarter. Obviously, there are a lot of unknown variables — fuel prices, sugar supply and distribution, and, of course, the machine’s basic reliability — that will determine the potential success or failure of the Micro Fueler. But Quinn, who has a background in the PC business, sees the personal nature of the Micro Fueler as its main selling point. “Ethanol is really the people’s fuel,” he says. “Anybody can make it.”
If you can convince the Feds that you really are producing fuel, then the licensing process isn’t too onerous. If, on the other hand, they suspect you’re dodging liquor taxes…
You see, the federal excise tax on distilled spirits is $13.50 per proof gallon, or gallon of 100-proof liquor — that’s $27.00 per gallon of pure ethanol.
Anyway, as the New York Times notes, sugar-based ethanol doesn’t look much cheaper than gas:
It takes 10 to 14 pounds of sugar to make a gallon of ethanol, and raw sugar sells in the United States for about 20 cents a pound, says Michael E. Salassi, a professor in the department of agricultural economics at Louisiana State University. But Mr. Quinn says that as of January this year, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, he can buy inedible sugar from Mexico for as little as 2.5 cents a pound, which puts the math in his favor. While this type of sugar has not been sold to consumers, E-Fuel says it is developing a distribution network for it.