Published on November 4th, 2008 | by Nick Chambers
Home Mini-Refinery Makes Ethanol & Biodiesel Simultaneously
A Texas-based company has announced the “world’s first mini-refinery” for consumer use that can produce both ethanol and biodiesel from the same small machine at the same time. It’s capable of generating up to 120 gallons per day of ethanol and 450 gallons per day of biodiesel.
Consisting of two pieces of equipment — an ethanol boiler and the mini-refinery — the whole system can fit into an area of less than 30 square feet with 8 feet of clearance and is completely automated.
According to Adam Allard, President of Allard Research and Development, the EB120 ethanol boiler is their “core” product, acting as the “heart” of their systems. The AFS125 mini-refinery uses the boiler as part of its system, but the boiler and mini-refinery are sold separately.
As Allard says, “The boiler has a computer built-in, and that’s used for running boiler-specific tasks, as well as controlling the still. So although the boiler is sold also as a separate product, it would require an external distillation column, fermentation tanks, etc.”
The mini-refinery is computer touch screen controlled and features an Apple Mac Mini as its primary automation computer. When the boiler and the mini-refinery are used together, the Mac Mini also controls the boiler operation.
According to the Allard Research website, “The mini-refinery has 275, 60, 30, and 15-gallon tanks built in, and also comes with controls and ports for easy expansion to almost unlimited size. The computer includes built-in networking for both Ethernet and wireless 802.11. The system can be remotely controlled through the network, and multiple systems can be easily connected together to scale daily output capacity.”
Geared towards a wide range of users, such as businesses, municipalities, farms, and even home users, the Allard mini-refinery system is well-positioned to appeal to a diverse audience with various production scale needs.
The mini-refinery can accept a large variety of feedstocks for the production of biodiesel including oil from crushed seeds, waste vegetable oil, and straight vegetable oil. For ethanol production, the system can accept such feedstocks as corn mash, sugar and even waste alcohol from restaurants and bars.
Interestingly, if your only desire was to produce ethanol from waste alcohol, all you’d need would be the ethanol boiler and some sort of storage tank. The use of waste alcohol as a feedstock for ethanol production is gaining traction around the US and as Allard says:
“There is a growing movement to reclaim waste alcohol from restaurants and bars. I find this very intriguing as there appears to literally be thousands of gallons of beer, wine, and spirits thrown away everyday. Collecting these and running them through the system essentially reduces your feedstock cost to whatever gathering costs are involved. It also reduces the process time as the fermentation steps are skipped.”
Allard says that the lowest cost to make ethanol might be around 70 cents per gallon if waste alcohol was used, and then only an additional 5-10 cents per gallon of biodiesel if waste vegetable oil was used because some of the ethanol produced is used in the making of the biodiesel (instead of the typical methanol).
If you were in a situation where you could use the maximum output of the mini refinery every day — and had enough waste vegetable oil and alcohol — based on today’s prices for gas and diesel, making your own fuel with the mini-refinery could save you around $1,800 per day. Regardless, even if you went with crushed oilseed and sugar, your savings could still be considerable.
Okay, now for the bad news — at least for people who are reading this and fantasizing about making all their own fuel at home — the AFS125 mini-refinery costs $28,995 and the boiler cost $995. But if you’re a municipality that uses all 120 gallons of ethanol and 450 gallons of biodiesel per day, and you could get a line on free waste vegetable oil and alcohol, you might save nearly $500,000 per year.
Even if you’re a home user, I’d imagine that the system could pay for itself in 5 years time if you’re a heavy driver and your family uses several automobiles. And in a state like Oregon, where I live, if you’re a business (even a sole proprietorship with no employees) there’s a good chance this would qualify for a 50% tax credit that can be paid to you in cash at a lower 35% rate using a pass through option.
That means that as a dude with an online consulting company in Oregon, I could buy the mini-refinery, a flex fuel vehicle, a biodiesel capable car and a biodiesel tractor for growing my own seed and have all of those costs listed under a single “project.” This would then make me eligible for a cash payment for 35% of the cost of the project or a tax credit worth 50% of the cost of the project.
So, even though it’s an expensive little system, given the right home use circumstances or if you’re a small municipality that fuels a fleet of police cars, buses, and fire trucks or you own something like a taxi company, this system might be exactly the thing you’re looking for and could save you wads of money during a time when the money’s tight.
Image Credits: Allard Research and Development