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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Don't like price of gas? Try making your own

By Bill Poovey
Associated Press

Bill Sasher, an inventor and mechanic in Tullahoma, Tenn., has modified stills to make ethanol at home, and his business, Dogwood Energy, is producing them for a growing number of clients.

MARK HUMPHREY | Associated Press

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Dogwood Energy: www.dogwoodenergy.com

National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition: www.e85fuel.com

National Petroleum Institute: www.api.org

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TULLAHOMA, Tenn. The still standard equipment of any moonshiner has a shot at becoming the must-have accessory of penny-pinching motorists.

An upstart Tennessee business is marketing stills that can be set up as private distilleries making ethanol 190 proof grain alcohol out of fermented starchy crops such as corn, apples or sugar cane. The company claims the still's output can reduce fuel costs by nearly a third from the pump price of gasoline.

Buyers of stills need a federal permit to make ethanol on private property. In what amounts to an honor system, they are to add a poison to their homemade alcohol so it isn't white lightning (moonshine whiskey).

"We make it very clear that it is against the law to drink what comes out of it," said Shelley McClanahan, a spokeswoman for her family's business, Dogwood Energy.

Phones are ringing with orders at the business that mostly sold pellets for wood stoves before rising pump prices focused new attention on a modified still designed by McClanahan's father, Bill Sasher.

Since word started getting out in recent weeks about Sasher's still, Dogwood Energy has added 10 employees, McClanahan said.

Sasher's new creekside assembly warehouse in south-central Tennessee down a backwoods road, next door to a noisy rooster and less than five miles from the distillery that makes Jack Daniel's whiskey has orders for 45 assembled stills.

The company is building four or five stills a day. It has sold 45 in recent weeks and more than 125 since September.

"You can save a lot of money. That's what this is all about," McClanahan said.

A bushel of the fermented starch crop, mixed with yeast, water and sugar, and allowed to sit for about 2.5 days, then strained and heated to boiling, makes about 2.6 gallons of ethanol, which is then added to gasoline to produce a blended fuel.

Dogwood Energy says it costs about 75 cents a gallon to make ethanol at home. Adding 15 percent ethanol to $3 gasoline cuts the cost of a fill-up to $2.40 per gallon, McClanahan said.

A blend with 85 percent ethanol cuts the cost to $1.09 for a blended gallon, she said.

Sasher's stills, which stand about 6 feet tall and easily fit in an airy garage corner, sell for about $1,400 each. Blueprints each sell for about $45 and buyers who are good salvagers can build a still themselves for less than $1,000, McClanahan said.

Marrcus Mollenarro, a Kenosha, Wis., businessman, has bought one of Sasher's stills to make it cheaper to run his six personal and business vehicles.

"We don't have to use oil from the Middle East. There are options," Mollenarro said

Dubose Porter of Dublin, Ga., a state representative and editor of The Courier Herald, said the newspaper has ordered a still to help offset delivery costs.

Using ethanol to power cars isn't new. The Model T Ford was originally built to run on alcohol.

Sasher said any modern-day car can run on a mix of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Most vehicle engines can use blends of up to 25 percent ethanol.

More than 30 models of new flex-fuel cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles including General Motors' Yukon and Ford's Taurus can use up to 85 percent ethanol, known as E85 fuel.

McClanahan said most of her customers go to the gas pump "fill up 80 percent full and fill up the rest with alcohol."

Her company advises its customers to check their owner's manual and consult with the manufacturers to see what blend of ethanol their cars can use. The Web site www.e85fuel.com provides advice, too.

Sasher, 57, developed the Dogwood Energy still by modifying designs that date to the 1970s gas shortages.

Its great advantage is cooking the mash at just the right temperature, 170 degrees, according to John Franklin, a former engine company design engineer and educator in Evansville, Ind., who has ordered two of the stills.

"If the temperature is too high then you are losing the alcohol. If it is too low you are not able to recover enough of that alcohol that is pure enough, that is fuel grade," Franklin said.

"He makes it to where it is much more automated. He does that with that mechanical temperature control valve. That is half the expense of the still. His still is much more automated and much more precise."

Ethanol already is routinely added to gasoline in Hawai'i, New York, Connecticut, California and the Midwest, and makes up about a third of the gas sold in the U.S., according to Kristin Brekke, of the American Coalition of Ethanol.