Boil Off Some White Gas in the Back Yard

Gas-still

[S Heath] is a Coleman lantern collector. Coleman lanterns can run from a variety of fuels, however they seem to run best with white gas, or Coleman fuel. Store bought Coleman fuel can cost upwards of $10USD/gallon. To keep the prices down, [S Heath] has created a still in his back yard to purify pump gas. We just want to take a second to say that this is not only one of those hacks that we wouldn’t want you to try at home, it’s also one that we wouldn’t try at home ourselves. Heating gasoline up past 120 degrees Celsius in a (mostly) closed container sounds like a recipe for disaster. [S Heath] has pulled it off though.

The still is a relatively standard setup. An electric hot plate is used to heat a metal tank. A column filled with broken glass (increased surface area for reflux) rises out of the tank. The vaporized liquid that does make it to the top of the column travels through a condenser – a pipe cooled with a water jacket. The purified gas then drips out for collection. The heart the system is a PID controller. A K-type thermocouple enters the still at the top of the reflux column. This thermocouple gives feedback to a PID controller at the Still’s control panel. The controller keeps the system at a set temperature, ensuring consistent operation. From 4000 mL of ethanol free pump gas, [S Heath] was able to generate 3100 mL of purified gas, and 500 mL of useless “dregs”. The missing 400 mL is mostly butane dissolved in the pump gas, which is expelled as fumes during the distillation process.

[Thanks Cody!]

56 thoughts on “Boil Off Some White Gas in the Back Yard

  1. $10 a gallon sounds like what we pay for regular unleaded 95 over here in the Netherlands: at the moment it’s about $9.10/US gallon at a motorway fuel station.
    Getting UL95 in the city is slightly cheaper, about $8.50/US gallon.

    1. Seems to be around $9.68/gallon here in the UK. It always amuses me (and then makes me sad) when Americans complain about their prices.

      1. American cars use twice the fuel and they drive three times more on average per capita than Europeans, so their $3-4 a gallon is comparatively twice our gasoline prices.

          1. As further research, the average UK commute by car is about 8.7 miles. The average US commute is 16 miles, so not quite double that. The cars however are still half as efficient, or at least twice as big and twice as powerful than the average UK car, so that’s about 3.7 times the fuel used for daily commuting, which comes out at an equivalent cost of around $11/gallon

            The US gallon is also 15% smaller.

          2. You’re ignoring the lack of good mass transit, immense urban sprawl, and general size of the US compared to the majority of countries in the EU.

          3. My Prius (supposed to be very fuel efficient and economy-minded, and even sneered at for being so) only manages ~ 45mpg. It’s hardly that we like our cars to be gas guzzlers, it seems they are built that way. Probably to appease Big Oil.

            Head to Europe and halve your mileage, but double your fuel cost. Seems a bit convenient…

          4. Appease Big Oil? The car makers build what people will buy. It’s appeasing our American egos, where so many of us want a big car to make up for our other psychological shortcomings. Buying a big, powerful car makes us feel big and powerful. Out there in that tough commute, nobody’s going to push me around! It’s all about ego.

            I saw a bumpersticker in Portland Oregon on the back of a 1980s Mercedes 300D sedan (burning biodiesel) that said “Nice SUV! Sorry about your pe**s”. I don’t think it is too far off the mark.

          5. @draeth:

            That’s just so sad, to me. One of my first cars after high school was a 1991 Honda Civic DX with a CRX engine, that averaged 42 MPG if I was careful with the clutch and accelerator. These days we have heavy, compromised hybrids like the Prius and Volt that barely manage better.

            That said, your Prius would probably fare better in an accident than that old Civic (and I know because I’d likely still be driving it today if I hadn’t had a low-speed accident that totaled the front of the car). Still, as good as Honda and others were at making fuel efficient gas-only cars back in the day, why aren’t hybrids getting 60-80 MPG on a regular basis?

        1. US cars do not use twice the fuel. The Ford Fiesta in the US gets 38MPG vs 39.6 MPG for the Fiesta in Europe. And that easily falls into the realm of different testing methods. Yes the listed milage is actually 46.7 but that is Miles per imperial gallon vs miles for US gallon which is 0.832674 of a imp gal. So the same cars get about the same milage in both places. The US just does not get many diesels yet but they are coming soon.

          1. Yeah US cars do. First off youre cherry picking your car, one with a 1.0L I4 engine of which there are very few on the road. Secondly you cherry picked the highway MPG rather than the city MPG. Here in Chicago, if you’re on a highway durring rush hour you might as well use the city MPG figure because it is stop and go. Instead how about you use what I drive, a ’99 Jeep Cherokee 4WD with a 4.0L I6 which got 14MPG when it was new and quite likely even less now that it has 145k miles on it.

          2. Toyota Rav 4 in the UK with the gas motor 32,64 US Rav4 29. No same car in both places get about the same milage. The big numbers you see for EU cars are all Diesels which are not popular in the US yet. GM is bringing small diesels now as well.

        1. The “size of our contry” argument doesn’t really hold any water when you look at where americans actually live.

          2/3 of the US population lives on the east coast and within the so called “megaregions” with population densities comparable to France and Germany. The rest live on the west coast with similiar conditions. Practically nobody lives in the middle. Some people live in Texas. Given the urban density for most people, there should be no need to drive any more than Europeans do, yet the americans do.

          1. interesting argument. I guess I’m ‘practically nobody’, since I live in Minnesota (about the population of Finland or Denmark). I would love it if there were decent places to work within 20 miles of decent places to live, or trains to take me to work. (I drive 40+ miles each way) Just doesn’t happen here. No way I’m moving to a coast so I can fit into your image of where people should live.

          2. Well, you could say “comparatively nobody”. But the point still is that almost all Americans live as tight as Europeans, so the ones who don’t have a -lot- of driving to do to actually have any influence in the total average fuel consumption.

            Ergo, it’s not the long distances that make the difference because most people actually do live in places where services and population is tightly packed, but simply the cars people choose to drive and where they choose to drive, and the lack of public transportation.

  2. I paid $2.999/gal USD for UL 10% ethanol last night…
    (Let the “My gas is cheaper/more expensive than yours” war continue… B^)

  3. Instead of building this, do some research and find a local station that has it. If you are anywhere near farmlands you can find gas stations that actually carry it for $4.50 a gallon.

    I keep all my coleman cans and bring a 5 gallon gas can to the station, and then fill my coleman cans myself. Plus whitegas also stores great for long term, only once every 2 years do I have to venture out to find a bulk supplier.

  4. so whats the useless dregs? “difficult to set fire to” kind of implies it can be ignited, but with some difficulty, like diesel

    1. It’s more like dilute engine oil than diesel fuel. A diesel engine probably wouldn’t run on it unless already hot.

      Diesel fuel actually ignites quite easily, but in a different sense than gasoline; it’s less volatile as in, it doesn’t turn to vapors as easily, but its autoignition temperature is lower than for gasoline, which is the point of diesel engines.

      The cetane number of diesel fuel measures how easy it is to ignite the fuel under compression, as opposed to the octane number of gasoline that measures how hard it is to ignite under compression.

      1. but diesel engines can run with oil/diesel mix.

        It has been know for people running cars here in UK illegally on red, agricultural diesel and mixing used engine oil in with it to tint it to avoid detection when getting your tank dipped by the fuzz, though they are wise to it now.

        That aside, it still means a little oil in the fuel neither impedes nor enhances the engine, but act as a filler – more mileage?

        1. Modern diesel engines are a bit picky on the quality of fuel because of high pressure injection. It either gums up your injectors, your pump, or your cat and filters because heavier fuels make more soot.

    2. Interestingly enough, while diesel cetane numbers are never displayed at the pumps, there’s some minimum standards, and the higher you go the better the engine runs.

      The difficulty to ignite the fuel results in a combustion delay in the cylinder where the fuel atomizes, heats up and then ignites. The lower the CN, the longer it takes to do all that and it results in all the fuel going off in a single bang inside the cylinder which creates the characteristic diesel sound. The higher the CN the earlier the burning starts from the injection and the longer it has time to burn inside the cylinder, which results in a more complete burn, less soot, better efficiency, lower noise… etc. etc.

    1. I’m going to run them in a GC mass spectrometer to see what’s in them then who knows what I will do with them. I’m just saving them up for now.

      1. I bet what you have are the additives, octane boosters and crap like MTBE if that’s required in the UK.

        The History Channel had an episode of Modern Marvels on gasoline in 2002. In the USA there are only two grades of gasoline refined and every refinery makes the same stuff. The differences are all in the additive packages which are dumped into the tanker trucks along with the base gasoline.

        The reason for this is pipelines. It takes a week for gasoline to get from a gulf coast refinery to a pipeline terminus in New York but the gasoline that goes into a Shell or Chevron truck for delivery to NYC could have come from any other oil company.

        The different companies additive packages can be sent separately by railcar, tanker truck or through the same pipeline in between slugs of gasoline or other products. They used to use solid moving plugs called pigs to keep the products separated but eventually it was discovered there’s very little mixing without the pigs, even through thousands of miles of pipe. What does mix is called “transmix” and either gets sent back to the refineries or sold as turbine fuel for powerplants.

        Not having to use the pigs eliminated the hassle of removing them from the pipe at the end of the run and shipping them back to the start. That also made design and engineering of the lines easier because tight turns, sharp angles and other things pigs couldn’t go through were possible.

    1. This is actually surprisingly safe. When I was young, a friend and I were looking for some excitement one day so we decided to boil a pot of gasoline outside over a camp stove. We figured that it would erupt in a giant column of flame but instead it just happily boiled away with interesting white bubbles. We must have eventually just lit the gasoline on fire to try to get our thrill but it must have been a disappointment because all I remember are the white bubbles.

      Keep in mind that he is doing this in an environment almost completely free of oxygen. The distilled gas is safely dripping several feet away from flame on a raised surface so even if fumes were coming off of it, they would flow down away from the flames.

    2. That fear comes from a misunderstanding of the combustion that takes place. Not only is the fuel required but also the necessary oxygen to support the combustion. The boiling vessel while under operation contains far less oxygen then would be required to cause an explosion.

      1. People can do that legally, however that has nothing to do with distillation or heat like this does – hence why it’s the preferred method. All you need to do is pass liquid butane through ground bud and drip it through a filter into a pan. Proper ventilation and you can even do it inside.

          1. I’ll concede that most people use heat to help purge, but it’s also possible to do without heat and without vacuum. You can get a very high quality product without either if you know how. Then again many people have blown themselves up, so there is dangerous using any method that involves flammable substances. My main point was that BHO is much safer compared to alcohol based extraction.

  5. There are some farm stores in the Lancaster PA area that sell Naphtha (ie Colman gas) by the gallon for the Amish folks to use. Last time I checked, it was ~ 1/2 the price of the 1 gallon cans of the Colman stuff.

  6. Coleman gas (Naphtha)is really not that pricey considering the time, risk and energy used to distill gasoline. To me, it just does not seem worth it, but then again sometimes we just have to try things out like this for our own amusement.

    1. Many Colemans are “dual fuel” and burn naphtha and gasoline. That said, I’d stick to naphtha unless it was an emergency and gasoline was all there was, then I’d give it a good clean afterward.

      My backpacking 442 Coleman stove isn’t sold as dual fuel in Canada due to even more additives in our gas.

  7. This is not a good way to do fractional distillation. Having a constant flow of coolant and varying the heat input is liable to keep collapsing the equilibrium in the column. Better is to have a constant heat input and get the reflux ratio that you want by varying the coolant flow.

    1. Heat source is constant till the endpoint. No really trying to fractionate as much as separate low BP constituents from high.

    2. Possibly even better is to keep heating input constant (a must) and also keeping the cooling flow constant. Then you change the geometry of the head at the take of point to vary the reflux ratio. Be that either as a liquid (tap) or as a vapour (ports size)

    3. I don’t understand why varying input heat would cause equilibrium to collapse? It probably would be hard for PID controller to maintain temperature gradient in reflux column near the end point, but the math is similar to constant flow mode in modern rotary evaporator systems. I mean… it is doable.

  8. Damn, distilling gasoline? I’ed rather pay the $10! But the temperature control for the still would be a nice addition to a a regular backwoods refreshment machine. :)

    1. It wouldn’t start because all the lighter fractions are removed, so it’s too hard to ignite. It’s essentially stale gas. It would also not be very pleasant for the engine because the heavier fractions are also missing and they provide lubrication to the fuel pump and injection system.

      Naphta was used to drive dual-fuel cars back in the 70’s here for tax reasons. The cars had two tanks and a valve that let you switch fuels. The engine had to be started and stopped on regular gasoline or it wouldn’t start or would foul the plugs.

  9. While the risk of distilling gasoline can surely be handled in a backyard, the whole thing is completely pointless. White spirit or Naphta is not just purified, it is hydrotreated – with hydrogen gas at a pressure and a catalyst – to get all the double bonds out of the aromatic and aliphatic stuff. The resulting stuff is a lot less toxic than gasoline, distilled or not. That is why I would recommend to never try this at home (and I tend to recommend a lot).

  10. We need to end suppression before it causes the end of us all.

    I have been trying to expose an answer to the mystery of the100 Miles per gallon fuel systems. Yes 5 times the fuel mileage is possible but missed or suppressed by oil companies for over 80 years and we have the patents and the science to prove it, see the evidence we have now at website (no spaces) him acre search dot com other sites with similar info are Byron wine dot com Rex research dot com More than vapor but refining gasoline into natural gas and methanol yes 200 mpg 4 cylinder

    I guess because I put out the info on 5 times the fuel mileage for free on my web site. I have been exposed to many Alleged Cures for cancer that appear they have been suppressed like 100 MPG as crazy as that sounds. Speaking of sounds there was a Dr Raymond Rife in 1930 s that used frequency and had great success and many devices have since been used successfully allegedly. For free file, 27 listed 3.8 megs just e mail Bruce “at” him acre search dot com ask cancer file and feel free to pass on

    Bruce McBurney

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