Fuel is an item that we will definitely always need on our homestead. While it will be impossible to drill and refine our own petroleum products, I think it is very possible to produce a limited amount of our own ethanol for fuel. With a few modifications, this can be used much of the time like normal fuel.
Clawhammer Supply is one of our advertisers on this website. They provide a few different options for DIY (do-it-yourself) ethanol production and provide wonderful quality parts and instructional videos to aid you in this goal. They even provide you the legal paperwork and information needed to obtain the FREE permit provided by the federal government. We received our permit in less than 60 days, through the mail.
Think what it would mean if you had the ability to provide your own ethanol fuel for any number of uses during a grid down situation? Clawhammer Supply should be at the top of your list in getting a kit so that you can achieve success in fuel production. I have very little experience in soldering and welding, but I was able to put this 5 gallon kit together in about 3 days. I spent a couple of hours working on it each day. It was so easy! And the instructional online videos they provided make it fun!
At the end of the project, I had my very own 100% copper pot still that I made myself. Not only can this be used for fuel production, but for making distilled water and essential oils as well. Both of these items can come in handy in various situations. In my state, using the still to make consumable spirits is illegal. That may not be the case where you live, giving you an additional incentive for owning a kit like this. Oh well, we’re not big whiskey drinkers here anyway.
How To Make Fuel
The Basics: Making alcohol for fuel production is very simple.
Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol/Ethanol
So lets imagine that the grid is down. No running to the store to pick up any items. You have your still, but that’s it. You need to come up with the rest of the ingredients to produce the alcohol/ethanol all by yourself.
You can find sugar from two 2 sources: natural sugars and starches. Starches can be used, but they require an additional process to be converted to sugars just as they do during digestion in your body. Let’s explore each option.
- Natural Sugars would include the following: sweet fruits, sugar beets, honey, and tree sap rendered down to syrup. Sugar beets should get special mention because they can produce a lot of fermentable sugars that can be used to make alcohol. Juniper berries are also important to mention for those of us who live in the United States. They can be found around much of the US and have a sugar content approaching 30%.
- Starches are a favorite for acquiring sugars to make alcohol/ethanol. However, there is an extra step that must be included to convert those starches to sugars. Don’t think for a second that this process will happen by itself. These are the top items that can be used for starch sugar production: corn, barley, wheat, spelt, rye, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes(sunchokes). All of these contain starches that can be converted into sugars, but you must first provide the enzyme that performs this conversion process. Brewing stores sell bottles of enzymes that you can use, but remember, the grid is down and the zombies raided the brew store months ago. So no trips to the brew store allowed! You must make your own enzymes. Thankfully this is an easy task.
The enzymes needed come from malted grains. Many people use barley or wheat, but you can really use any grain. Take any grain you have access to. For a 5 gallon batch of mash you will want about 9lbs of grain. Soak in water overnight. Drain and rinse the next morning, and mist to keep moist. Let the grains sprout just enough so the sprout is just about half the length of the grain. Dry the grains with a kiln or solar dehydrator. The dashboard of your car works great for this in the summer. These dried grains now possess the enzymes needed to convert starches into sugar that can then be fermented. The grains will need to be crushed before use and heated to 150 degrees in water. Then they are ready to be added to your other starches (batch of potatoes, corn, etc.) that will be used for sugars. The grains you sprouted are officially “malted” and work as an activator for the batch of mash you are making into alcohol.
Ok, so we still need yeast to get this show on the road. The yeast will break down the sugars and the result will be alcohol/ethanol that can be distilled and used for fuel. But remember we said no trips to the store. So you have to make your own yeast. We do this for bread here on the homestead by “growing” our own sourdough starter that is simply created with yeast from the air. But you can make your own yeast in other ways as well.
Naturally grown fruits will have yeast on the skins. Potatoes can be boiled to make a yeast starter. For more info on those methods, click here. For us here, we usually have a sourdough starter available or can easily make one in about a week. You would just need to add about a cup of the starter to your ready to go mash and watch the magic happen.
Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol/Ethanol
The fuel we produce on this homestead will be made by the previous mentioned methods with the following materials.
- Sugars will be obtained from Jerusalem artichokes sometimes called sunchokes. We may try a couple corn runs, but we are installing some sunchoke boxes for growing these amazing tubers. They can produce a LOT of sugar energy. Corn will produce 300 gallons per acre and Jerusalem artichokes will actually produce double that at 600 gallons per acre. They grow like weeds and are amazingly productive. Corn doesn’t grow very well in the Ozarks anyway.
- In the short term, malted grains will be made with a stockpile of wheat berries we have on hand. Long term, we will eventually be growing amaranth. We will malt this grain to make our enzymes for creating the starch to sugar conversion required for the Jerusalem artichokes.
- Yeast will be created from either persimmon skins (grown wild on our homestead) or sourdough starter and used in the mash to start fermentation.
So that’s it. The process is pretty simple and it should be simple. After all, the ancients figured this all out long before you or I came along. The making of spirits is mentioned as far back as the oldest books of the Bible (Deut. 14:26) and many other manuscripts. Henry Ford once said that Ethanol was the fuel of the future. Many of the original vehicles produced in this country were designed to run on ethanol made from vegetable matter.
My biggest hurdle (and yours too) is to be able to have a way to make and distill the fermented product to use as fuel so that it will burn. A 5 or 10 gallon still from Clawhammer Supply will not make you a fuel barron overnight when the SHTF and the grid comes tumbling down. But it can give you enough to get by for emergencies and give you an edge that many around you simply won’t have.
I would highly recommend their product. I have really enjoyed building my still from their kit and I’m confident it will provide years of valuable use in the future.
If you decide to purchase one of the Clawhammer Supply Stills, be sure to let them know you found them on An American Homestead!