How to Distill Alcohol, part 3: How to Make Methanol

[error]DISCLAIMER: The following is highly dangerous or illegal and it is not recommended to be used under any circumstances, except zombies.[/error]

Methanol, or methyl alcohol, can be used primarily as a fuel source or feedstock (a chemical used to make another chemical).  For our purposes, we can either use it to fuel cars, trucks generators, etc. or to create biodiesel (both very useful in a post-Apocalyptic world).  In this part of our series on alcohol distillation, we discuss how to use your still to produce methanol.

Methanol is more commonly referred to as wood alcohol because, until breakthroughs in modern chemistry, the only way to produce it was by extracting it from wood.  You shouldn’t drink methanol EVER.  Not only does it taste bad, but it can kill you.  In fact, methanol is used to denature ethanol products, rendering them undrinkable by making you violently ill when you drink even that small of an amount.  If you want to make drinkable alcohol read about it here.

Producing methanol is a much less involved process than producing ethanol.  Put wood chunks or shavings (or paper) into the bottom of your cooking vessel and add enough water to cover the wood.  Heat the cooking vessel to around 78C and wait as the methanol vaporizes from the wood and out the condenser coil and into your storage container.

If you are making both ethanol and methanol make sure you label them.  I can’t stress to you how important it is that you don’t drink methanol.

How to Distill Alcohol, Part 1: How to Make a Still

[error]DISCLAIMER: The following is highly dangerous or illegal and it is not recommended to be used under any circumstances, except zombies.[/error]

Generally, when people think of a still, they think of liquor or moonshine.  While being able to make these items in a post-Apocalyptic world can make things easier for you.  A still can be used to make other products as well (all alcohol related, but more useful than drinking).

Basically, a still is just a sealed cooking vessel with an outlet pipe that allows the alcohol to cool.  Some stills get more elaborate than this, but they all follow a similar premise.

  1. Put a substance containing alcohol into the vessel.
  2. Heat it up such that the alcohol evaporates, but nothing else does.
  3. Wait for evaporated alcohol to exit vessel via tubing.
  4. Alcohol goes through tube and cools off, trickling into a recepticle for storage.

Cooking Vessel

Keg Still and Copper Condenser

The most important thing to consider when creating your cooking vessel is size.  Remember that you’re going to be cooking off a lot of stuff in order to get a small percentage of final product.  Think of ethanol production: Your typical mash will be between 5% and 10% ABV, so you generally won’t get more than 10% of your original volume as a final volume (depending on your still efficiency).  Basically, the bigger the better.  As far as material goes, anything that can transfer heat is good, copper being one of the best things.  You also want to make sure that as much surface area as possible  is exposed to heat.  The faster to temperature, the faster you’re done.

Condenser Tube/Coil

The condenser coil is what allows the alcohol vapor to cool down and convert back into a liquid before dissipating in the open air.  The thing to consider with your tube or coil is that you need to get the temperature of the contents of the tube down to near room temperature before it leaves the tube.  So you either need an incredibly long tube (which is where a coil comes in handy), or an external means of cooling the alcohol down (e.g. ice, cool water, etc).  Either way, this needs to be considered when scrounging or making your condenser.   As with the cooking vessel, if you have access to a material that easily dissipates heat, use it.

The Procedure

First, put your alcohol bearing material in the cooking vessel.  If you are fermenting something, you might as well do it in this vessel, just make sure you don’t completely close it off or else pressure will build up.  Next, close off the vessel and attach your condenser.  Light a fire underneath the cooking vessel.  Maintain the temperature of your material as close to the boiling point of the type of alcohol you are extracting.  Ethyl alcohol boils at ~80C and methyl alcohol at ~65C.  The amount of alcohol you can distill is completely subjective.  Basically, you’ll start out getting barely a trickle of alcohol out of your condenser, then you get a steady stream of it, then a trickle again.  The trickle at the end will be less concentrated than the rest of your batch, but viable nonetheless.