$1.00 Gallon Fuel. Ny Times


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Home Brew for the Car, Not the Beer Cup
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Floyd S. Butterfield, left, and Thomas J. Quinn with the MicroFueler in Los Gatos, Calif. They say this ethanol system could be a threat to the oil industry.

Published: April 27, 2008
WHAT if you could make fuel for your car in your backyard for less than you pay at the pump? Would you?

The first question has driven Floyd S. Butterfield for more than two decades. Mr. Butterfield, 52, is something of a legend for people who make their own ethanol. In 1982, he won a California Department of Food and Agriculture contest for best design of an ethanol still, albeit one that he could not market profitably at the time.

Now he thinks that he can, thanks to his partnership with the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Thomas J. Quinn. The two have started the E-Fuel Corporation, which soon will announce its home ethanol system, the E-Fuel 100 MicroFueler. It will be about as large as a stackable washer-dryer, sell for $9,995 and ship before year-end.

The net cost to consumers could drop by half after government incentives for alternate fuels, like tax credits, are applied.

The MicroFueler will use sugar as its main fuel source, or feedstock, along with a specially packaged time-release yeast the company has developed. Depending on the cost of sugar, plus water and electricity, the company says it could cost as little as a dollar a gallon to make ethanol. In fact, Mr. Quinn sometimes collects left-over alcohol from bars and restaurants in Los Gatos, Calif., where he lives, and turns it into ethanol; the only cost is for the electricity used in processing.

In general, he says, burning a gallon of ethanol made by his system will produce one-eighth the carbon of the same amount of gasoline.

“It’s going to cause havoc in the market and cause great financial stress in the oil industry,” Mr. Quinn boasts.

He may well turn out to be right. But brewing ethanol in the backyard isn’t as easy as barbecuing hamburgers. Distilling large quantities of ethanol typically has required a lot of equipment, says Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition, he says that quality control and efficiency of home brew usually pale compared with those of commercial refineries. “There’s a lot of hurdles you have to overcome. It’s entirely possible that they’ve done it, but skepticism is a virtue,” Mr. Kammen says.

To be sure, Mr. Quinn, 53, has been involved with successful innovations before. For instance, he patented the motion sensor technology used in Nintendo’s wildly popular Wii gaming system.

More to the point, he was the product marketing manager for Alan F. Shugart’s pioneering hard disk drive when the personal computer was shifting from a hobbyists’ niche to a major industry. “I remember people laughing at us and saying what a stupid idea it was to do that disk drive,” Mr. Quinn says.

Mr. Butterfield thinks that the MicroFueler is as much a game changer as the personal computer. He says that working with Mr. Quinn’s microelectronics experts — E-Fuel now employs 15 people — has led to breakthroughs that have cut the energy requirements of making ethanol in half. One such advance is a membrane distiller, which, Mr. Quinn says, uses extremely fine filters to separate water from alcohol at lower heat and in fewer steps than in conventional ethanol refining. Using sugar as a feedstock means that there is virtually no smell, and its water byproduct will be drinkable.

E-Fuel has bold plans: It intends to operate internationally from the start, with production of the MicroFueler in China and Britain as well as the United States. And Mr. Butterfield is already at work on a version for commercial use, as well as systems that will use feedstocks other than sugar.

Ethanol has long had home brewers, and permits are available through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. (You must be a property owner and agree to make your ethanol outdoors.) But there are plenty of reasons to question whether personal fueling systems will become the fuel industry’s version of the personal computer.

For starters, 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.

In addition, it’s illegal in the United States to operate a car on 100 percent ethanol, with exceptions for off-road vehicles like Indy cars and farm equipment. Mr. Quinn has a federal permit to make his own fuel, and believes that if MicroFuelers start popping up like swimming pools, regulators will adapt by certifying pure ethanol for cars.

Despite all the hurdles, Mr. Quinn and Mr. Butterfield may be on to something. There are plenty of consumers who want to reduce their carbon footprint and are willing to make an upfront investment to do it — consider the success of the Prius.

And if oil prices continue to rise, the economics of buying a MicroFueler will become only better and better.

Michael Fitzgerald writes about business, technology and culture. E-mail: mfitz@nytimes.com.


Active Member
The part about running more boost isn't in the article. I kind of figured that was common knowledge. The point of the article is that this would be perfect for our turbo cars because they love alcohol and it's cheaper. I consider that tech related.


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Isnt ethanol bad for our pumps and rubber fuel lines. But i like the idea for when i get a flex fuel Tahoe.


Active Member
who cares?

Isnt ethanol bad for our pumps and rubber fuel lines. But i like the idea for when i get a flex fuel Tahoe.

For a 1.00 a gallon and more boost I can change fuel lines and pump.

There's a kit online for $500 to convert to E85.


God loves Buicks!
The part about running more boost isn't in the article. I kind of figured that was common knowledge. The point of the article is that this would be perfect for our turbo cars because they love alcohol and it's cheaper. I consider that tech related.

Fair enough. I'll admit I just assumed the post was political because that's the tone of the article and I'm sick of hearing all the skewed b.s. That's a bad on me and I apologize. I suppose if you want to run ethanol you can reap allot of benefits. If they can set up a network that can get the cheap sugar it would have allot of promise. Until then you would be paying the same amount per mile though plus the cost of the machine and converting because you'll use twice as much ethanol as gas. (at least until gas goes up some more:mad: ) It would be allot more fun per mile though!


Active Member
You know, what's funny is I remember as a kid my dad telling me about a rare prototype GM built of a GN that ran on straight alky I've always thought if they could do it in 87, why we still using gas? Later I grew up become wiser and now I know why. And this guys idea will never work on a large scale cause their ain't enough sugar in the world at that price. But for a few it's great.

For the solution to why we don't use alky instead of gas, someone found a way and GM invested in the company right away as will I when they go public. The problem has always been that it's not possible to grow enough corn or anything to take the place of gas and it takes so much energy to make alky from corn. Now sugar is a different story and that's why Brazil is all alky cause they can grow a lot of sugar to where they export all their oil because they don't need it. Here is the solution and our savior from electric cars.