E-Fuel's MicroFueler, the home-based ethanol production system that makes gas from sugar or stale beer, was unveiled for the first time today in New York. E-Fuel says it will now take preorders for the $10,000 system, and will ship it by the end of the year. As you can see, it's not the smallest thing—no wonder the original image of it only showed a corner. Given its bulk and its price, what makes investing in this particular ethanol machine really worth it?

The system takes feedstock (a combination of sugar and yeast) or discarded alcohol, and combines it with water to distill 100% pure ethanol. Turning sugar into gas may sound like the work of mad scientists, but according to CEO Tom Quinn, home ethanol production was advocated and used by Henry Ford when he created the Model T. I imagine that home-made ethanol wasn't as easy to make back then, because if it was, we probably wouldn't have switched to gasoline in the first place.

The MicroFueler produces ethanol using membrane distillation. Sugar, yeast and water are blended together to create the chemical reaction that produces ethanol. After two days, the fermented sugar water is turned into vapor, and the ethanol is separated from the water. By the end of the week, the MicroFueler reservoir will hold 35 gallons of pure ethanol, enough to fill at least two cars. This is a lot like Dean Kamen's water purifier, except in reverse. In fact, creator Floyd Butterfield says the water by-product is clean enough to drink.

The most astounding part is that a car doesn't require pure ethanol to run, due to its higher-than-gasoline octane content. E-Fuel says you can fill up your tank with 75% ethanol and 25% water and your car will run fine.


The price tag may seem steep, but federal, state and local tax credits can bring the price as low as $5000—average cost with credits is more like $7000. The creators say an average home will save around $4200 on gas each year, and the machine will pay for itself in about a year and a half.

That said, people have been doing this on their own for a while. Plans available online estimate a true DIY machine costs about $500 to build, but for those who don't want to run the risk of spontaneous combustion (like me), the MicroFueler seems like a wise alternative. [E-Fuel]