A brief summary of the first MICRO DISTILLERY by Peter Charles Jais

 Micro distilleries became feasible in Brazil when the price of the barrel of oil went over the 30 dollar mark (even reached 40 USD). At that time there was talk of the possibility of the feasibility of small farm based, ethanol distilleries to manufacture fuel for cars.

This was the first Micro distillery I projected (1977). At that time I was working with Deon Hulett. The main idea was to make a simple distillery that could be handled by unqualified farm workers. For this some efficiency was put aside and some innovations made. The principle innovation was an atmospheric pressure boiler (Or near atmospheric). My worry was to make a boiler that did not run a risk of explosion, due to the non qualified labor.

 The boiler used the actual slops instead of water. In fact it was a re-boiler heated by direct fire. The slops were in the tubes and the fire around the tubes. This was inverted in the next model as we had difficulties cleaning the fire side.

 The main problem with this type of boiler was the difficulty in maintaining a constant pressure. The pressure needed in the column is very small, but if you lacked “flame” the pressure would fall down immediately. It was just like a pot of water on a gas stove, the moment you switch off the gas, the pot stops boiling.

 We (Deon and I) came up with a great idea: If we always had an excess of flame, we could automatically control the pressure opening and closing the exit of the chimney. (Without any fancy instruments).


The distillery consisted of two columns (distillation and rectification). Both columns were packed with polypropylene pal rings. The wine was pre-heated in a partial condenser and then in a liquid/liquid heater using outgoing slops, before entering the column.

The condensers were reflux type so that the condensate would simply flow back through the same tube that the vapors entered. The non condensables simply carried on in a straight line until reaching the atmosphere, and left the column.

 Reflux was controlled by throttling or opening the ethanol outlet. Thus any quantity of reflux could be achieved. Normally it ran at about 4 to 5 :1

 I had no money to build the distillery. Deon would have financed it but Eileen (his wife thought it too risky). I found a manufacturer who decided to take the risk (Pirainox – Sebastião). He built the columns and the boiler in 15 days. Mantoni, a small mill manufacturer lent me a mill (12 x 16”) to mill the cane. The rest I bought out of my pocket: 2 petrol engine driven pumps for wine and water and two 1000 liter asbestos tanks to use as fermentation vats. All the piping was heat resistant pressure hoses.

 When all was ready and Deon and Eileen were in South Africa on holiday, I set up the distillery on a small holding they had in the country near Piracicaba (Artemis). When they got back, to their surprise they found the distillery working and the first sale closed.

 First test / First sale

 The day I tested the distillery for the first time, I made my first sale. I was busy trying to get the thing going when a man arrived at the site saying that he had heard of my distillery and that he was interested in buying one. As of yet no alcohol had yet come out. He sat under a tree and watched as I fumbled over trying to be a distiller (This was my first time as an alcohol maker)

 All of a sudden, alcohol began to trickle out of the rubber hose coming from the column. Our collection station was 3 plastic buckets (10 liters each – as you see, I was not expecting much)

 When the third bucket was full I stopped the distillery (hosing down the fire in the furnace with water) My visitor asked if this alcohol could run an engine. The condenser water pump used was run by a small gasoline motor (about 1hp I think). We took all the gasoline out and then ran it until it stopped, thus making sure there was no gasoline in the carburetor or pipes. We put about two liters of alcohol in the tank. It took about three tries to start, but when it did it ran till the alcohol finished.

 Renato Costa Neves (my visitor) asked how much would the distillery cost. After making some quick calculations based on weights of stainless steel, I gave him a price and we closed the deal. (I lost on the deal – It was my first commercial adventure and did not take a lot of other costs into account)

 After this first experience I built and sold 39 distilleries through various manufacturers. The majority were 100Lt/h 96°GL ethanol. Some were 10, 25 and 50 Lt/h. When the price of the barrel of oil went down to US$ 12, the Micro distillery business ended. Some went on to producing aguardente (rum) and others to making bottled domestic alcohol. Today I think all have closed down, not being able to compete with the big manufacturers. Price of oil is going up again.

 The only sad part of this great experience was that Deon lost his life falling from the top of the rectification column of this first distillery. The sugar industry lost a genius that gave a lot to the industry and could have given a lot more.

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