Ethanol is by definition an ethyl alcohol which is produced when sugars are fermented by yeast. For humans it can be an intoxicating drug, but in general it is a volatile, flammable liquid that can be used as a solvent, fuel or antiseptic among other things. It has a wide use of applications from medicine and recreation to generating energy through combustion. It can be used as an alternative to petroleum gasoline in many cases, and can be produced quite easily with the help of a few simple instruments and easy instructions. It is liquid distilled from a fermented mash of organic material; or bio-fuel if you will. Producing your own ethanol fuel can be simple and useful, but dangerous as well.

Be cautious with alcohol as a fuel or drug. It is dangerous as a volatile liquid and as a toxic chemical when ingested. It’s production is often strongly regulated, so make sure to check your local laws in case you need to obtain permission or licensing to produce ethanol. The same applies to it’s consumption; not only is this dangerous in general, but is also generally regulated and can be illegal in accordance with regional laws. Before attempting to produce ethanol make sure to research the law regarding it in your area.

In practice, making ethanol is simple and basically the same as making any kind of alcohol through fermentation. You need to find some organic matter with sugar – fruit is packed with it (as are many vegetables). You can use fresh produce or leftover scraps of produce. Rotten fruit works just as well. You can also use grain (like corn or wheat), wood or any organic garbage or waste.

You will want to find a container to ferment your fruit (or whatever you are using) in. A bucket, a garbage can, a barrel; anything that can covered and retain the liquid fruit mash you are about to create. If the last sentence didn’t give it away, mash up your fruit and whatever sugar-containing material you could find into as much of a mush as you can. You will want to have enough to fill one third of the container you are using, but do not exceed this volume. Fill the remaining two thirds of the container with water, and add yeast, then cover it. If you are using a container the size of a barrel, use about 2 standard packets of yeast. If you are using a smaller container, scale down the yeast accordingly. For a large bucket (which would be smaller than the barrel) use about a packet. Any yeast will do, but yeast specialized for alcohol is best if you can find it. We can teach you how to make yeast, but we can also sell it to you here.

Next you need to be able to monitor the fermentation process. You can ballpark it and leave things to chance, or you can use a hydrometer to measure the sugar content of the liquid. When the sugar is gone, fermentation is over. If you are making ethanol from fruit in a barrel, this could take approximately 10 days in a controlled, room-temperature environment. Different materials, conditions and volumes can vary greatly and it is possible to over (or under) ferment, so timing it crucial. You can make a hydrometer if you have to, but you can just as easily buy them at very reasonable prices as well, since they are quite simple. Hydrometers measure the density and effect of gravity through liquid, and can be calibrated for various uses. Measuring sugar is done with a saccharometer, measuring alcohol is done with an alcoholometer. Both can be used for this process.

If using a hydrometer calibrated for measuring sugar (a saccharometer), once the reading of your liquid has reduced to zero, you are done fermenting (because the sugar has been used up by the yeast’s reaction) and you are ready to extract and distill the ethanol that has been produced.

We can teach you the basics of building a still, or you can just buy them here. Every still works a little differently but they essentially all do the same thing; collect the vapor condensation released from heating a liquid. You can distill water, yielding pure H2O and ridding it of contaminants and minerals. In this case, you can distill ethyl alcohol. After adding your water/fruit (or whatever) mixture to the still, heat or operate the apparatus as intended and it will produce ethanol. It will still likely have water which can be filtered or further distilled out. For precision distillation you can use a simple apparatus consisting of a distillation flask and condenser tube (Liebig Condenser). As a whole, this apparatus is essentially an alembic.

You can now test the density and purity of the ethanol if you’d like, using the alcoholometer we mentioned – a hydrometer calibrated for measuring alcohol level. You should be able to attain a liquid ethanol of 95% purity after your initial distillation. If you are having problems removing water particles from your ethanol, or are a stickler for purity, try using a specialized fuel filter, which will capture water and isolate the ethanol fuel. They can also be purchased here.

If you are using ethanol as a fuel, you will want as little water content as possible. If you are using it for recreational consumption, you will probably want as much water content as possible. If you plan to use ethanol as a fuel in a petroleum fuel engine, you will want to create a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% petroleum gasoline. Some conventional petroleum engines may need to be modified to operate on ethanol fuel. Liquid with an ethanol content of 95% should suffice for most fuel-combustion applications.