Index of Articles







Are you interested in MACHINERY?  Then you might find one of these articles handy:

Pint-size Plow-horses by Doug Smith

Friend, Anybody can Weld by Doug Smith

Non-Electric Dreamin’ by Barbara Bamberger Scott

How to Buy a Pickup for the Homestead by Jamie Svrcek

The Complete Sissy-boy's Guide to Pick-Up Trucks by Neil Shelton

The “Swiss Army Knife” of Homestead Tractors by John Molloy

Homestead Truck Turned Mobile Workshop by Tony Collela

How to Buy a VERY Used Tractor by Neil Shelton 

Classic Tractors by Mary Beth Woods

Book Review: Operator's Manual - Ford Model 8N

Bush-hogging by Neil Shelton

The Metz 22 Non-Stop Run

The Snow Devil  (Video)





Making Alcohol Fuel

by Lynn Doxon

Our bodies quickly make energy out of alcohol.  Our engines can do the same thing.  Of course, our engines will not go blind or die because of small amounts of contaminants in the batch, so we don’t need to be quite as careful as the big distilleries that make drinking alcohol.

The first fuel used in the internal combustion engine was alcohol.   Shortly after the internal combustion engine was invented petroleum distillation was discovered.  At that time gasoline was much cheaper to produce than alcohol, there was little concern over air pollution and oil supplies were thought to be inexhaustible.  Only a few foresighted people realized the disadvantage of using a fuel that had to be searched for and mined from underground.  Henry Ford was one of these.  He fought long and hard for the use of alcohol as fuel.


Making alcohol is not far removed from chores farmers are used to.  What we are doing is growing a yeast crop for the alcohol it produces.   Grain is ground to make the starches more available.  Enzymes are then added to break the starch down to sugars.  These are the same types of enzymes that are found in saliva.  The sugar is then fed to yeast plants that digest the sugar and water and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide (along with more little yeast organisms.)  The yeast finally starves to death or kills itself off by overpopulation and too much alcohol.  We then remove the liquid, which is alcohol and water, and distill it.  The solids - the protein that was in the grain and the dead yeast organisms - are fed to animals as a protein supplement.


The substrate is the material from which the alcohol is made.  If you were just starting to farm, without any land or equipment, you would go out and look for land that would grow the crops you were interested in, and that you could afford.  Rich, black bottom-land will grow more than rocky, yellow hillsides.  Carbohydrates are what make an alcohol crop.  Sugar and starch are carbohydrates.  Crops with more carbohydrates will produce more alcohol per pound.  Table I-1 gives the amount of alcohol that can be produced from several different crops.

If you are buying the substrate, calculate the cost of the alcohol by dividing the cost per unit by the number of gallons that unit will produce.  For example, lets say you want to produce alcohol from pure cane sugar and you can get that sugar at $12 per 100 pounds.  You can make 6.92 gallons of alcohol from that sugar so the cost would be $1.63 per gallon of alcohol.  If you were buying wheat at $4.50 a bushel and could make 2.56 gallons of alcohol from that wheat the substrate cost of the gallon of alcohol would be $1.75.

If you are growing the crop yourself, the more carbohydrates per acre, the more alcohol per acre would result.  If a crop will produce many gallons of alcohol per bushel, but will only produce a few bushels per acre, or if it has a very high production cost, it might be better to choose another substrate.  To figure the amount of alcohol per acre multiply the average production per acre by the amount of alcohol that crop can produce.  (Make sure the units are the same.)  In order to figure the cost of the substrate for each gallon of alcohol divide the cost of production per acre by the number of gallons that can be produced from the substrate grown on that acre.  For example, if you can grow 65 bushels per acre of wheat, which will produce 2.56 gallons of alcohol per bushel, the yield will be 166.4 gallons per acre.  At a production cost of $250 per acre the substrate will cost $1.50 per gallon.

There are several things to consider when deciding what substrate to use.  In addition to expense, you should consider how dependable the crop is in your area, whether the equipment is available to plant, care for and harvest the crop, whether you can store it until you are ready to use it and whether you have the equipment to prepare it.  Will you use the culls from your potato or fruit crops?  Will you plant what would once have been your set-aside acres into grain?  Will you use different crops at different times of the year?  Each operation is different and you must decide for yourself what is best.

There is a residue left over after the alcohol is made that is two to four times as rich in protein as the material going in.  Certain other nutrients are concentrated also.  With some substrates this is a high quality, high protein animal food.  With others, it is not usable.  Could you formulate a supplement for your animals that would provide an amino acid balance?

Just as there is a need for water to make the nutrients in the soil available for plants, water must be available to dissolve the carbohydrates in the substrate you use.  The concentration of carbohydrates in the liquid should be between 10% and 25%.  The more water you add, the more complete the fermentation which results.  The less water, the more concentrated the alcohol in the brew.  The yeast will die when the concentration of the alcohol gets to be around 12%, so do not increase the sugar concentration above 25%.

The pieces of the substrate must be small enough that the enzymes and yeast can get to the carbohydrates.  Grain should be ground to the consistency of coarse cornmeal.  Other substrates should be ground, mashed or shredded as appropriate to the substrate.  Save all the juices. Sugar is water-soluble, and a lot of it can run off with the juice of some crops.  One-half of the water should be added to substrates containing starch, and they should be heated to soften the starch.  If you bring it to a boil for a short period of time, you will also kill unwanted bacteria and other microscopic weeds that would disrupt the production of alcohol.





% Fermentable  







Corn or Milo 

























Sugar beets  





Sugar cane





Sweet potatoes










Jerusalem Artichokes





Pure sugar    





Corn sugar   






Yeast makes alcohol from sugar.  Starches are long chains of sugar, and cellulose is a mass of starches cemented together.  Starches can be broken down using enzymes.  Enzymes make things happen that would not ordinarily happen.  Enzymes do not get used up in the reaction they make happen, although there are many things that will inactivate them.  A given enzyme will do only one thing.  It is like a key that will fit only one lock.  They act best at a certain temperature and pH.

Enzymes found in saliva, sprouted grain and certain bacteria break the bonds that hold sugar together in starch chains.  These enzymes are called amylacea.  There are two different kinds of bonds between sugars in starch chains.  To break these bonds, it takes two different amylacea. They are glucoamylase and alpha-amylase.  The difference between the two is like the difference between right and left-hand scissors.  They approach from different directions and therefore are able to cut slightly different bonds.

There are enzymes called cellulases that break the sugars in cellulose apart.  These are produced by bacteria in the first stomach of ruminants and are very expensive to buy at this time. It would take about 30 to 50 cents worth of commercially available cellulase to produce a gallon of alcohol from cellulose-based materials

We use Diazyme, a glucoamylase and Taka-therm, an alpha-amylase.  Both are brand names from Miles Laboratory.  Taka-therm is most active at a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0, or in slightly acid to neutral conditions.  This can be measured with pH paper available at most drug stores.  It will retain its ability to act in a pH range of 5.0 to 11.0.  It works best at temperatures below 194E F.  If calcium ions are present in the water, it will act at higher temperatures, although higher temperatures for long periods of time still tend to inactivate the enzyme.  It should be stored at low temperatures (40° F).

Diazyme works best at a pH of 3.8 to 4.2 and at 140°F.  It will work in a pH range of 3.5 to 5.0. Temperatures above 176°F. will inactivate this enzyme.

Continued on page 2   >



submit to reddit

Index of Articles

Custom Search
Hit Counter