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The X86 Still

By JamesSharman in News
Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 01:20:59 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)
Hardware

Last weekend I took up the challenge of putting the heat generated by a microprocessor to good use. The good use being the distillation of pure alcohol, you can read all about my efforts and results here.


The basics of distillation are simple, you heat alcoholic fluid until the alcohol starts to evaporate, then you cool it so it condenses elsewhere into pure alcohol. To put it simply, the key components are a heating device and a cooling device. Now the average PC, has both a heating device (The processor) and a cooling device (The fan). The question we asked was "By separating the processor from its fan and adding a few small components, could we convince an ordinary PC to distil alcohol?"

The article describes the hardware setup used (with pictures) and the results obtained. After nearly an hour of operation our makeshift still managed to produce about 2 cubic centimeters of almost pure alcohol, not quite a viable moonshine operation we know but the whole thing was a rather entertaining waste of a Saturday afternoon. The main thing is we proved the still could be made to work and had a good laugh.

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The X86 Still | 22 comments (19 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Moonshine! (4.00 / 2) (#2)
by fluffy grue on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 12:05:43 PM EST

And after all that, you didn't drink the part you didn't burn? :)

It'd be interesting to see something like this setup so that you could keep on pouring more alcohol into the heating chamber as it's being used, and just use the still as your heatsink (adding a peltier unit to improve efficiency). Then if someone asks you why you keep pouring rum into that funnel on the top of your case, you can say that your computer's alcohol-powered. ;) Might as well do something USEFUL with all that heat generated by cracking rc5 blocks, too...
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Re: Moonshine! (none / 0) (#3)
by JamesSharman on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 12:14:36 PM EST

Well, I did have a sip. But I was more than a little worried about 'lead flavoring' from the solder. :-)

[ Parent ]
Re: Moonshine! (none / 0) (#12)
by fluffy grue on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 05:00:27 PM EST

Hm, yeah, good point. Didn't think about that. :) You could always run a bunch of distilled water through it for, like, a month before using it. :)
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Heat + alchohol...what a combination... (none / 0) (#5)
by 3than on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 01:13:53 PM EST

I think that rocks-it's nearly there as a cooling solution. I'm dying for a viable way of reusing cpu heat. It's going to be a great day when someone finds a good way of storing that heat energy. I'd love to heat my water with a beowulf cluster...

Peltiers (none / 0) (#7)
by orthox on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 01:29:24 PM EST

I believe a peltier can help the distilling process more than the current config.
The peltier would have a temperature difference of ~70-80 degrees between the sides of the unit, with the reference temperature being (in this case) the processor.
This sould mean that you can achieve temperatures 35 degrees above the standard running temp of the processor, possily eliminating the need to over stress the processor.
The only problem I can think of is the need to remove the heat from the peltier to prevent it from overheating (if this were to be a long term thing.)



Watch out for revenoors (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by error 404 on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 01:30:32 PM EST

Edgar Allen Poe voted [Hic!] on this story

It isn't clear in the article what jurisdiction the experiment took place in. But in some places, distilling alcohol is a pretty big no-no.

Neat experiment, though.

Brings us closer to the rec.arts.brewing (I should check in over there - it's been a while...) dream of downloading beer.
..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

Re: Watch out for revenoors (none / 0) (#9)
by JamesSharman on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 01:56:37 PM EST

I did this in the UK, distillation is illegal here although there is an exception that allows it in small quantities for 'education purposes'. Iíve not read the relevant law myself so Iím to entirely sure if it applies here, but even if it doesnít I canít see how anyone would raise any serious objection to what I did.

[ Parent ]
Re: Watch out for revenoors (none / 0) (#10)
by Anonymous Hero on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 03:50:51 PM EST

Federal laws in the US allow you legally brew/distill small amounts of alcoholic beverages for personal consumption, small amounts being something on the order of 100 gallons/year. There may be relevant state laws, however.



[ Parent ]
Alas! Such is not the case. (none / 0) (#11)
by error 404 on Wed Jun 21, 2000 at 04:12:36 PM EST

peanut_farmer@whitehouse.gov voted +1 on this story

I am an enthusiastic follower of that particular Federal law. Unfortunately, it allows the production of up to 100 gallons of beer or wine per year (200 in my case, because there are two adults in my household) it doesn't allow any distillation at all.
..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Re: Alas! Such is not the case. (none / 0) (#13)
by rusty on Thu Jun 22, 2000 at 12:37:23 AM EST

peanut_farmer@whitehouse.gov voted +1 on this story

You're not fooling anyone, you know. ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Yeah, I know. But what can you expect (none / 0) (#15)
by error 404 on Thu Jun 22, 2000 at 09:33:56 AM EST

from someone who uses an error message as a name?
..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]
A neat use for a computer! :-) (none / 0) (#14)
by skim123 on Thu Jun 22, 2000 at 12:52:02 AM EST

I can imagine the guy at BestBuy... not only can you balance your checkbook and check email with this computer, but you can also distil you own alcohol.

Neat, although it sounds like you beat the hell out of that old machine to get just 2ml!

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum


Don't forget! No denatured ethanol! (none / 0) (#16)
by addison on Thu Jun 22, 2000 at 03:07:54 PM EST

Safety warning. :)

de∑na∑ture (d-nchr)
v. tr. de∑na∑tured, de∑na∑tur∑ing, de∑na∑tures.
1) To change the nature or natural qualities of.
2) To render unfit to eat or drink without destroying usefulness in other applications, especially to add methanol to (ethyl alcohol).


They specifically denature ethanol with stuff (depends what stuff) that has BP's within mere fractions of ethanol's (so you don't do exactly this, or with a stove, etc). Ethanol is cheap as hell to make, but you've got to pay hellacious taxes if its not denatured.

So don't try this with denatured ethanol - it'll still be denatured afterward!

Addison


Re: Don't forget! No denatured ethanol! (none / 0) (#20)
by rusty on Sat Jun 24, 2000 at 09:22:24 PM EST

He started with rum. I'm pretty sure you'd get a lot of irate frat boys if they started denaturing the alcohol in rum. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Right. (none / 0) (#22)
by addison on Mon Jun 26, 2000 at 11:41:45 AM EST

he did.

Just in case anybody ELSE tries it.. and says.... "Hey.. that denatured ethanol is CHEAP.. lets use that!" :)

Frat boys? Hrm. Well, all the ones I knew stuck to beer, beer, beer, Jack Daniels, beer, beer, vodka, beer, beer, and occasionally some moonshine or everclear.... And beer.


Addison


[ Parent ]
Huh? Turn rum into ethanol? (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 22, 2000 at 04:37:20 PM EST

What sense does that make? Now if you could turn a mash into rum and then turn it into ethanol - that would be different!

Wow (none / 0) (#18)
by Neuromancer on Thu Jun 22, 2000 at 04:50:48 PM EST

This is cooler than the computer cooled by beer.

Mmm - nasty hangover? (none / 0) (#19)
by Anonymous Hero on Sat Jun 24, 2000 at 08:09:44 PM EST

I see that the container and piping was made from brass. If anyone has any thoughts of reproducing and consuming the alcohol produced I'd be wary. I know that copper acts as a good catalyst for changing alcohol to various aldehydes which are _very_ good at making the hangover from hell. As brass is a cupric alloy it may well be that this is the case here as well. Not near a library or I'd check and confirm, but it might be worth investigation :)

Another idea (none / 0) (#21)
by Anonymous Hero on Sat Jun 24, 2000 at 10:08:02 PM EST

How about reclaiming some of the energy that you lose to entropy? Using a thermocouple or similar device you can make use of a temperature gradient to drive electrons. I read about a kerosene lamp used in Siberia that would reclaim the wasted heat to power a radio. Ok, a processor probably doesn't give off enough heat to be useful, but it's still a cool idea.

The X86 Still | 22 comments (19 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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