By Allen Penticoff
During the 2009 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds, I saw something very interesting—a machine that processes E100 ethanol right at your home or farm. The MicroFueler is touted as the “Earth’s First Home Ethanol System.”
The MicroFueler is considered “micro” inasmuch that it is extremely tiny compared to a huge ethanol plant where semi-tractor loads of grain are processed. The machine and process were brought to market as a company called E-Fuel, by entrepreneur Tom Quinn and ethanol scientist Floyd Butterfield. Their goal was enabling people to break free from dependence on oil by offering a practical, cost-competitive alternative to gasoline.
According to their brochure, they do this by: “1. Removing reliance on the costly oil infrastructure from the process of producing and delivering E-Fuel ethanol; 2. Use of carbon credits direct to the consumer to offset the cost of ethanol; 3. Stimulate ethanol demand through convenience and savings.” We’ll look at how they propose to do this.
The machine itself is a small refinery consisting of a 250-gallon organic fuel tank that holds the organic materials being processed, and a pump unit that looks just like an ordinary gas station pump. The pump unit has a 50-gallon E100 holding tank. Since the whole unit is capable of producing up to 280 gallons of ethanol per week—that is probably more than most of us would consume in a week.
To take advantage of the excess fuel capacity, E-Fuel offers an optional ethanol-fueled electric generator they call the Grid Buster that connects directly to the MicroFueler so you can “go off the grid” or sell electricity back to the utility. The Grid Buster automatically adjusts its operation to the load, so when demand is low, it slows to idle speed, saving fuel and the air. The generator is designed to operate on a mix of ethanol and 50 percent water to further reduce fuel consumption and pollution.
While the distiller is capable of turning farm-generated organic waste or crops into 100 percent ethanol, the focus of the company is to provide waste organic matter from sugar sources such as beverage production waste (think beer and soda) and other waste sugar or cellulosic materials that the E-Fuel company has pre-filtered and predigested to a high alcohol content. This organic fuel stock is then delivered to the consumer for final processing into fuel at home. This takes the burden off crops for food and uses something that was otherwise being disposed of. Algae can also be used with additional processing outside the MicroFueler. After the ethanol is processed, the remains can be composted. For using organic material that is supplied by the consumer/farmer—additional tanks may be attached to the MicroFueler to compensate for the time it takes to distill the raw material down to ethanol.
The local dealer will be informed of when to refill your organic fuel tank by the GPS-linked pump. They will bring the organic fuel stock to your place, fill the tank, and all you need to supply is the electricity to heat the brew and process it. The machine was carefully designed to eliminate any possibility of ignition of the ethanol. The GPS link is called the E-Fuel Global Network, and provides two-way communication between the customer’s machine and the company/dealer. This includes systems monitoring and billing—all of which can be monitored via an Internet-based account. There is a small monthly fee for the subscription.
To be legal, the system requires you to pay for the gallons you use in the form of road taxes. Since the organic stock is provided by the dealer, this is an expense to pay for as well. But between the two costs, E-Fuel expects that the consumer’s cost per gallon will be about $1.75. To get this, though, you’ll have to pay $9,995 for the MicroFueler. The acquisition cost will likely be reduced by federal, state and local tax credits (federal is 50 percent).
You’ll also need to provide some electricity to operate this machine. I had gone to a seminar about the machine, and having lost my notes, can only say I did not seem concerned with the power used. The machine has pure water as a by-product, which you will have to deal with as well. It can go down any drain, or to some other creative use you might have for it.
While E-85 ethanol is becoming more available, so are vehicles that can burn it. Any “flex-fuel” vehicle that is capable of burning E-85 can burn E-100. Many vehicles can burn ethanol safely, even though this capability is not advertised—consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer. Conversion kits are readily available as well. Even a new development of using ethanol in diesel engines has come about. So what this machine does is decentralize the energy-intense oil/fuel business. By removing much of the energy it takes to grow crops and distribute them and the ethanol, it makes this clean-burning fuel truly environmentally friendly with a much lower energy-to-make versus energy-to-use ratio.
All we need is demand for this machine. To that end, California initiated a pilot program to buy MicroFueler systems to power its fleet of flex-fuel vehicles. While anyone doing the math may conclude it would take some time to earn back the cost in fuel savings, with carbon credits, tax credits and heavy consumption (think fleets), the payback time would be much shorter—then, perhaps, even revenue-generating. The company is quite new and is seeking those interested in becoming dealers. The Web site is www.microfueler.com. The regional distributor is DeAnza Fuel Group, 888-332-0141.
From the November 4-10, 2009 issue