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How to Make Ethanol From Compost

Updated April 17, 2017

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is a product derived from the fermentation of sugar or starch. Vegetable waste such as fruit, cornstalks, maze, wheat or other grains, sorghum, or sugar cane can be used. You can make your own biofuel in your backyard and run your vehicles on clean-burning alcohol instead of high priced gasoline. You will need special equipment and a government permit as a "small fuel producer". (See Reference 1)

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  1. Ethanol is made from cane sugar, corn, or grain. Corn has 74 per cent starch and 66 per cent of this ferments to alcohol. The byproducts of fermentation can be fed to animals.

  2. Organise the fermentation and distillation equipment and the ingredients from the list at your cooking area. The goal here is to make beer first and then concentrate and refine the ethanol under your legal permit.

  3. Add 5 kilograms of cane sugar and boiling water to cover the sugar in a 25-liter fermentation bin. Mix with more boiling water until the sugar dissolves. Top the bin up with warm water until the temperature is at 20-25 degrees C (1,107 degrees C C). Add brewer's yeast and nutrient to the bin and fit the lid loosely so fermentation gases can escape. Keep the solution in a warm place for two weeks and stir daily. Add a small amount of yeast and nutrient to the bin to promote fermentation. When fermentation slows, a bubble lock can be used with the lid in place. When bubbles stop, fermentation is complete.

  4. Once you have a Small Fuel Producer permit, set up your distillation equipment with gas or propane under a boiling kettle and a thermometer and copper coil tightly stoppered into the kettle spout. Pour a portion of the fermented brew into the kettle and gradually raise the temperature to 80 degrees C (80 degrees C). The boiling point of ethanol is 78.4 degree C. Keep the copper coil in a water/ice mix and place a mason jar at the coil outlet. When the temperature rises to 100 degrees C (212F), all the alcohol has been distilled and you are boiling off water and steam. Stop the process, discard the spent kettle mix and replace it with a new batch of brew.

  5. Twenty-five litres of fermented brew should give an alcohol yield of about a half-gallon. You will be able to collect at least two mason jars of first-run ethanol. In turn, these jars can be distilled a second time to raise the ethanol content higher and purify your product. Test a small amount to see if it will burn.

  6. This is an expensive way to make a half gallon of fuel. Substitute farm waste materials that are less expensive than pure sugar or corn. Rotting fruit and vegetables make good cheap sources of starch and sugars.

  7. Run 5kg of any high sugar or starch waste as above. Complete the fermentation and then the distillation, and see what yield of ethanol is obtained. Compare how much ethanol you obtained with the pure cane sugar with a starting amount of 5kg. This will allow you to compare the quality of your raw product in producing alcohol to a known sugar content which is one half-gallon.

  8. Tip

    Try using solar heat rather than fossil fuels to warm your fermentation water Be sure to use a high-alcohol resistant yeast for maximum alcohol production General Compost can contain a high percentage of unfermentable materials and cellulose, which involves a more complex process to make a wood alcohol. As such, it should be avoided.


    Primary fermentation can proceed quickly, especially in warm weather. Be sure to allow air for gas created in fermentation to escape and not be confined to froth over and out of the bin. Do not drink products. Other byproducts may form in the fermentation of a composted mixture that may be harmful to your health.

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Things You'll Need

  • Small Fuel Producer permit, available from U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)
  • Water
  • Yeast (high alcohol resistant)
  • 5kg. sugar ( 5kg of high sugar or starch farm compost material)
  • Brewer's years nutrient
  • 25-liter fermentation bin
  • Stirrers and/or paddles
  • Thermometer
  • Water-cooled condenser (copper coil soldered in bucket)
  • Large tea kettle or boiling pot with open spout
  • Wide mouth rubber or cork stopper to fit spout tightly
  • Hole cutter for copper coil and thermometer
  • Gas or propane heater
  • Clean quart-size mason jars

About the Author

Thomas Edward

Writing from his Cape Cod home alcove, Thomas Edward won American Express' National Humor Contest and wrote "Stern's Reminder," a nautical fiction, in 1999. His first professional publication in 2005, "My Fathers Who Art in Heaven," was followed by short stories in New England One magazine. Edward holds an M.S. in civil (environmental) engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

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