Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wood alcohol

The Coyote asks a good question over at his blog:
Is it possible to make ethanol from cellulose? In the past, when you started with cellulose you got wood alcohol, methanol, rather than ethanol. If I recall correctly, methanol contains considerably fewer BTUs per gallon and is much less desirable as a motor fuel. With a bit of bioengineering it might be possible, but I'm skeptical. If it were possible, wouldn't Budweiser be making beer from used diapers now?
Really good questions.

I used to make model airplane fuel out of wood alcohol and castor oil. It ran fine in my engines. These were tiny two-stroke engines that powered model aircraft and as dead-broke adolescents, we were always out of money. We learned that wood alcohol and castor oil gave good service in these tiny engines and was considerably less expensive than the commercial fuel. For the price of a bottle of commercial fuel, you could mix up about three times as much homemade fuel. We didn't care how many BTU's it contained and we weren't interested in efficiency. All we cared about was that we could fly our planes on the cheap. In using the fuel, it was important to shake the bottle well before fueling, because wood alcohol and castor oil don't readily mix. I suppose the inflight vibration kept the fuel mixed while the motor was running.

As I recall, I kept my fuel in a big, brown glass gallon jug originally used to sell root beer. I lugged that bottle around for three or four years and it was probably discarded when we cleaned out Daddy's shop.

And no, you can't drink wood alcohol. It'll poison you. You'll die.

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