My project began out of a family business which my immediate family and myself began in 1995 of an approximate 1,300 tree fruit orchard The orchard primarily being an apple orchard, but we produce peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, and pears as well. The orchard sets on about 10 acres of our 240 acre farm in North Central Missouri, north of Macon 4.5 miles. Until the year of 2003 we did not carry out any significant sustainable agriculture practice on the farm.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
1. The goal of my project was to produce enough alcohol (ethanol) from waste fruit to run a significant portion of the daily operations on my farm. This would include running a small farm tractor (Ford 9N) and various lawnmowers and other trimming equipment needed in manicuring the orchard and also a small farm truck that is used in hauling produce out of the orchard. We as most orchards have an abundance of waste fruit.
2. The actual planning of this project began some time before 2003 with the idea of making natural fruit wine and extracting the alcohol from it. The initial trials began by making an abundance of wine, actually we had a large abundance of apricot in 2002 and were unable to get the apricots all sold timely, so thus I made several gallons of wine.
The distillation experiment was with a small water distiller (Durastill) and with double and triple distillation, I was able to produce near 160 proof alcohol. This is when other motions of the project started in as much as research on my part about other types and designs of stills. The Internet played an important part in my decisions about the 1st prototype still and subsequent still.
I then felt the need to become legal and apply for the proper permits for manufacturing ethanol from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). I located the proper forms, filled them out and within 6 weeks had the permit which allowed me to produce up to 10,000 proof gallons of alcohol per year, for my own use. The application for this grant came next and by winning this grant I then started on the project in earnest.
The 1st prototype still was a single column fractionating still, basically made from a stainless steel 15-gallon beer keg with a copper 3-inch-diameter tube. The paulings that are inside the tube are basic glass marbles about 5/8 inch diameter. This first still produces alcohol at the rate of 1.5 gallons in one hour and 15 minutes and is powered by one water heating element of 4,500 watts.
The next generation still was made from a new 500 gallon propane tank that was purchased as a second, in other words it did not pass the rigid inspection and pressure testing for propane use. It worked perfect for my project. This still is also a fractioning column still, however it has a stripping column as well, which actually makes the distillation process even more effective. The column is packed with 3/8 inch diameter ceramic marbles. It also is powered by four water heating elements.
I have two good friends who have aided me in the design of the project, Lyn Tucker, whose background is as a professional commercial plumber and Joel Hopson, who is also a plumber but with residential plumbing background.
Ralph Lowery a friend as well, welded almost the entire heavy welding aspects about the still, he is a Union Boilermaker by trade.
My 20-year-old twin sons, Wade and Daniel also assisted immensely in the construction, moving, and painting of the still.
Charles Cheney of the University of Missouri Extension also gave great input to the project.
Our results have been very favorable and they are listed below.
1. Prototype still: This first still would produce 1.5 gallons of 190 proof ethanol per 75 minutes of heating. Basically working out to approximately .40 cents per gallon of alcohol for the distillation process of electricity only. Water usage to cool the column and condenser was approximately .20 cents per gallon of alcohol, bringing the total to .60 cents per gallon. A very favorable cost per gallon!
2. Main still: The test runs began in late October and also was very encouraging for results. This still is run on four, 4,500-watt water heating elements. Using $1.60 of electricity per hour per four elements and producing in our test run nearly 10 oz. of alcohol per minute works out to approximately four gallons per hour. We are hoping to tweak the process with more testing and even get more gallons per hour from this still. The water usage is similar to the prototype still and we have figured the water cost as the same. So even in the larger version of still, we are effectively producing alcohol at approximately $.60 cents per gallon. We are very pleased with the production and the outcome of this project and look forward to continuing this project.
Winning this grant has opened up many doors for me, not only with implementing my own ideas but with sharing other ideas along the sustainable agriculture line with all kinds of folks.
Implementing this project has piqued a lot of individual interest in my community. I can truthfully say that I have spoken and explained to hundreds of folks who have came to our orchard about the still and the project. School children from several local schools have seen the project. Home school groups have viewed it and I have explained the process and possibilities to many others from young to old as they come to buy fruit at the orchard.
If any other farmers or orchard owners would approach me and ask the feasibility of this project, I would encourage them all to try their own project for sustainability on their farm.
The economic impacts will directly relate to less purchasing of foreign fuel and using a renewable resource, waste fruit. The environmental impact will be that I will be using a very clean burning fuel for mowing and other work in the orchard.
I’ve used word of mouth (direct communication with interested parties) and we have produced a Power Point program about the project that will be available on line.
As stated above, many folks have seen the project first hand at the farm and heard my explanation about how the still works and about the viability of the project. I also gave a presentation about the project at the 2005 Farm Forum, which is a part of the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference held in Columbia, Missouri each year.
I have nothing but praise for this program, the folks involved have been quite supportive and understanding since I asked for an extension and received it. I feel the project benefited from the extension as it gave me more time to construct the still and properly test it. I intend to continue with other avenues of this project.