How To Make a Still for Home Ethanol Production

Jimmy Langley shares his tips on how to make a still for home ethanol production.

| July/August 1979

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    Jimmy Langley poses with his still...then puts ethanol to use!

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Some folks have a knack for just tackling a problem by the seat of their pants and coming up with an answer, and Jim Langley of Heflin, Alabama seems to be one of those people. Jim picked up a copy of the January/February 1979 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS (which featured an interview with Lance Crombie, the by-now-famous Minnesota farmer who was producing his own home fuel), and the explanation of Lance's simple solar still really sparked the Alabamian's interest.

So, without any further ado, Langley sat himself down and built his own version of a solar distillation apparatus, using Lance's description — and a little common sense — as a guide. "The idea came right out of y'all's magazine. Just from reading what Crombie had to say — and adding a few details from your solar collector articles — I put together my still. Of course I just guessed at some of the dimensions ... but I must've done something right, 'cause I'm getting fuel strength alcohol on the first run!"

How to Make a Still

Basically, Jim's still is a 4 by 8 and a half feet tray that's 5 and a quarter inches deep — that's backed with a full sheet of 3/4 inch plywood and faced with a piece of plexiglass. Inside this bin — at its midpoint — is a 1 inch by 4 inch board ... fastened horizontally to the sides and rear of the box. (This method of construction provides for a gap of an inch or so between the glazing and the horizontal shelf.)

The plywood covering at the rear of the tray has an 8 by 8 inch access door cut into it, positioned just above the ledge and designed so it can be tightly sealed. The plexiglass sheet itself is also rendered completely airtight with silicone sealant, and it's fastened to the box so that the transparent material's lower edge rests inside a 12 by 48 inch board mounted at the foot of the tray. (This plank serves as part of the alcohol collection bin at the base of the upright still.) A spigot is then installed at the tray's lowest point and used to drain off the distilled product at regular intervals.

How Ethanol Production Works

First, Jim built a frame to support the still in a partially upright position . . . he feels that an angle of between 57 and 62 degrees is best in his part of the Cotton State, but he suggests that anyone duplicating his efforts elsewhere recalculate this angle by merely adding 25 degrees to their own latitude.

After positioning the still at the correct angle and facing it toward the sun, the Alabamian opens the door at the rear of the box and places five two-liter, plastic soft-drink containers — filled with his mash solution — on the horizontal shelf within the still (he's cut the top three inches or so off the neck of each bottle to provide a wider opening).

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