Mar 26, 2013 at 10:26 pm #1300951
Ethanol may be the winner of the multi-use contest.
It can be added to tasty beverages to cheer the weary hiker. It is a stove fuel. It is a disinfectant for wounds and also disinfects water. It is loaded with calories. It is a fire starter. It is an anti-freeze, and in that role it could be used to protect a water filter such as the Sawyer Squeeze from freezing. Squeeze an ounce or so into the filter when low temperatures are expected. Afterward, the alcohol can be recovered when you resume filtering water.
What else has so many effective and desirable uses on the trail? Let us drink to ethanol!Mar 27, 2013 at 6:34 am #1970055
"It is an anti-freeze, and in that role it could be used to protect a water filter such as the Sawyer Squeeze from freezing. "
Thank You.Mar 27, 2013 at 9:26 am #1970123
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
Diatomaceous earth (or another gelling agent) plus alcohol makes sterno if you you want a spill-proof alcohol cooker.
It is also a preservative, so if you were to discover a new species of insect, you could pop it into your fuel bottle for safe keeping.
Water only dissolves polar compounds well, while alcohol is better at dissolving non-polar compounds. Applications could range from cleaning pine pitch from your cloth or pack, to extracting flavor or odor compounds from plants.
I've never been attacked by herds of rabid snails (at least not while backpacking), but my grandmother would leave out beer in the garden to dispatch slugs and snails. They come, drink it, get drunk, and drown in the beer.
While ethanol is NOT good first aid for frost bite, snake bite, etc; there are two cases where ethanol can be lifesaving. Admittedly, these are far more common to arise at home with children or pets, but they are: Ingestion of methanol is treated by getting the patient fairly drunk on ethanol. It displaces the methanol from being metabolized to formic acid by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase in the liver. Ethanol also displaces the automotive anti-freeze ethylene glycol, preventing the ethylene glycol from being oxidized to glycolic acid which is, in turn, oxidized to oxalic acid, which is toxic.Mar 27, 2013 at 9:29 am #1970126
Ok, David officially gets the Nerd Award. :)
(I kid, I kid. I'm a musician, so I'm not too far behind)Mar 27, 2013 at 11:32 am #1970177
I'll drink to that!
Keep those cards and letters coming. If we put our minds to it we may find dozens of great uses for ethanol on the trail.
Ethanol is the backpackers' friend. EtOH is the Swiss Army Knife of liquids.Mar 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm #1970237
@romonsterLocale: SF Bay Area
Now if only it wasn't illegal to sell it in California…Mar 27, 2013 at 6:14 pm #1970307
"Now if only it wasn't illegal to sell it in California"
Depends how many hoops you are willing to jump through….
I bought a 55 gallon drum for "cleaning technical parts", at, as I recall, ~50 cents per gallon.
(admittedly a looong time ago.)Mar 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm #1970311
Yes, I remember those days. I too use to backpack with 55 gallon drums of ethanol. But that was then and this is the new age of Backpacking Light. These days I take delicate little four ounce plastic bottles — and never more than a gallon of ethanol for the most desperate trips..Mar 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm #1970526
"Water only dissolves polar compounds well, while alcohol is better at dissolving non-polar compounds. Applications could range from cleaning pine pitch from your cloth or pack, to extracting flavor or odor compounds from plants."
While I am effectively ignorant when it comes to chemistry, a friend (not a BPL member or he could speak for himself), who has a strong claim to nerdy nerdiness in that department, objects to calling ethanol a non-polar solvent, "While EtOH's dielectric constant is not as high as water, it is clearly a polar protic solvent." I don't know what the implications of this may be with respect to the question at hand. Perhaps, little or nothing.
The intoxicating question at hand is, "What useful things can be done with ethanol on the trail?"Mar 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm #1970537
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
James' chem-nerd friend: no one called ethanol a non-polar solvent. I said it is better than water for dissolved non-polar materials.
Short chemistry lesson: polar chemicals have positive and negative charges. Examples in your kitchen are salt and baking soda. Non-polar chemicals lack such charges. Examples are vegetable oil, fats, and orange / almond / vanilla flavor-extract compounds commonly dissolved in alcohol.
Short reading comprehension lesson: oh, never mind.
If I traveled with white gas anymore, that is clearly a better solvent for pitch and tar. But I don't. Most BPLers don't in summer. But we often have alcohol along as a fuel, hand sanitizer, and/or beverage.
Edited to add: my day job is complicated at those sites where alcohol or other oxygenates like MTBE have been added to gasoline. It increases the solubility and mobility of the polar compounds in gasoline. It therefore increases the area and volume of contaminated groundwater and increases the cost of the cleanup. So I suppose that is another use of ethanol – if you put it in gasoline and then spill that gasoline into the ground, you'll employ more environmental engineers for longer.Apr 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm #1974644
"Water only dissolves polar compounds well, while alcohol is better at dissolving non-polar compounds. Applications could range from cleaning pine pitch from your clothes…"
Lucky I read Dave's insight because I took a good dollop of balsam fir sap this past weekend on my rain pants. I used some ethanol and was blown away – after a few seconds of rubbing I couldn't even find the sticky spot anymore. Outstanding stuff.
Any thoughts on ethanol vs methanol for this application?Apr 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm #1974656
Not sure why you'd want to carry methanol, Dan. I assume you are using the alcohol as fuel, in which case ethanol has considerably more heat energy per unit weight, and with alcohol you want all the heat you can get. Don't forget that methanol is much more toxic than ethanol. Recreational use of methanol is strongly discouraged! Denatured alcohol is mostly ethanol, but it has enough methanol to discourage internal consumption. If you want to consume your stove fuel and not go blind and die, get Everclear or some other brand of grain neutral spirits at a liquor store. Be sure to get the 190 proof stuff. Cut it with water and it's basically vodka.Apr 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm #1974669
+1 on removing pine sap with ethanol. I discovered that a few years ago when I got sap on my finger and experimented with Everclear (my stove fuel) to remove it.Apr 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm #1974722
@hikin_jimLocale: Orange County, CA, USA
Not sure why you'd want to carry methanol, Dan. I assume you are using the alcohol as fuel, in which case ethanol has considerably more heat energy per unit weight, and with alcohol you want all the heat you can get.
Well, yes and no. Strictly speaking, yes, it does contain more energy per gram, but it also burns hotter which can lead to runaway thermal feedback which can wind up being actually less efficient. Unless you've tuned your system well, a lot of stoves will be no more efficient with ethanol than methanol despite the fact that ethanol has more potential energy than methanol. You'll know your stove system is well tuned if the flames are (mostly) blue and don't soot the pot. You can cut the ethanol with water which tends to slow down the reaction. If you cut the ethanol with water, though, the resultant mix may not have any more heat content per gram than pure methanol. Of course you could dilute once you reach your camp in which case there might be some weight savings, but that kind of fiddling around is for super gram weenies only.
Denatured alcohol is mostly ethanol, but it has enough methanol to discourage internal consumption.
Um, maybe. Depends on where you are. In places where there is good regulation (UK, Australia), then yes. In the UK and Australia I believe that it's a regulated mix of 95/5 ethanol/methanol and is typically referred to as meths (UK) or metho (Australia). A colorant is typically added (purple).
In Germany, toxic methanol isn't used at all. Instead a bittering agent is used. The stuff is nasty. Spill a drop on your hands and handle food an hour later and you'll still get a taste of it or so I am told.
In the US, there really aren't any meaningful regulations. SLX denatured alcohol for example can contain more methanol than ethanol and contains other "denaturants" as well. Methanol being a denaturant, SLX is actually more denaturant than alcohol. Works fine, just not a lot of ethanol. For the average stove in the US, something like SLX or HEET (methanol) works great. You don't have to spend a lot of time to get your stove to burn cleanly. Use 190 proof or "green" alcohol, and you'll have to tune your system if you want to get the full benefit of the higher heat content. Of course you could carry ethanol for, shall we say, "other" purposes and not give a hang about the efficiency or a little soot on your pots. :)
If you want to consume your stove fuel and not go blind and die, get Everclear or some other brand of grain neutral spirits at a liquor store. Be sure to get the 190 proof stuff. Cut it with water and it's basically vodka.
Makes a dandy fire starter for your Bush Buddy too.
(Stove) Nerdly yours,Apr 9, 2013 at 9:56 pm #1974729
just Justin WhitsonMember
Hiker Jim wrote, " Of course you could carry ethanol for, shall we say, "other" purposes and not give a hang about the efficiency or a little soot on your pots. :) "
Haha, well i suspect that applies to Travis, and i don't even know the guy!
J/K, i have no idea, just observed his post and then Jim's after and saw the correlation. I need to get to bed before i get myself into some trouble.Apr 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm #1974732Apr 9, 2013 at 10:01 pm #1974733
Lol, I kid! I'm one for the beer and occasional mixed drink, but I tried a half-shot of Everclear once. Once.Apr 9, 2013 at 10:13 pm #1974737
just Justin WhitsonMember
You Sir, are a braver man than i.Apr 10, 2013 at 10:35 am #1974884
"Not sure why you'd want to carry methanol, Dan."
I carry it because ethanol isn't readily available in Canada (it's essentially banned for public sale). I've got a stash of "imported" ethanol which is what I used on this trip, but it's precious stuff so I also use methanol.Apr 10, 2013 at 10:45 am #1974886
Hey, Dan, did you ever score some butyl alcohol to test? It has me intrigued.Apr 10, 2013 at 2:26 pm #1974990
Aha! Canada is not perfect. I knew there must be a reason not to live in Canada.Apr 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm #1975448
Don't remind me about the butanol :)
After much trying, I finally found someone who would sell it to a Canadian like me. I placed the order in November after a couple lengthy phone calls about what I wanted to do with it. Long story shot, several months later it didn't work out so I'm back to 0.Apr 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm #1975480
@ckrusorLocale: Northwest US
Dan and Gary, I was interested in long-chain alcohols for stove fuel for a while, too, and I finally bought a bottle of butanol and a bottle of 2-octanol on Ebay a few months ago. These definitely don't work in unmodified alcohol stoves that work with ethanol and methanol. I tried them in whitebox-style stoves of two sizes, several different kinds of MYOG pepsi-can side-jet and top-jet alcohol stoves, and a MYOG wick stove similar to Zelph's Starlyte. All of these stoves work well and burn cleanly with EtOH and MetOH.
The butanol was difficult to light in the central pool of the whitebox stoves, and easier in the felt in the wick stove. It took longer to boil (required more time and fuel for priming) in all of the jet stoves. The major problem, though, was oxygen. The flame burned orange, was smoky, and left a lot of soot on the pot.
The octanol is syrupy and greasy and I could not ignite it directly in any stove (or priming pan). I had to mix it with ethanol. The octanol/ethanol mixtures I tried would light, but octanol has a high boiling point and there was an obvious transition in the jet stoves when the ethanol boiled (and burned) off. The blue (w/yellow tips) ethanol flame would peter out, leaving small orange octanol flames. These gradually grew but never found equilibrium. Thermal feedback would just turn the stove into an orange fireball, billowing black smoke.
I think, to "cleanly" burn long-chain alcohols, a jet stove would need to mix the fuel vapor with air before it exits the jets, and a wick stove would need a tubular wick and a strong draft (from a fan or chimney).
I concluded that, if I had a lightweight stove that had a clever way to introduce enough air into the burning fuel to cleanly burn long-chain alcohols, I'd rather use it to burn olive oil. The long chain alcohols smell awful (except heptanol and hexanol, which smell pleasant), they're greasy, they don't evaporate readily when spilled, and they're expensive and difficult to obtain.Apr 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm #1975555
Thanks Colin. Great to hear your experiences.
"…if I had a lightweight stove that had a clever way to introduce enough air into the burning fuel to cleanly burn long-chain alcohols…."
Sounds like the next X-prize. I've been hatching a few ideas towards this goal, but I likely lack the tools and skill to actually get it done. Maybe one day….Apr 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm #1975604
Way to go, Colin! Somebody at least tried longer chain alcohols. Thanks for giving it the old college try. And Dan, you too, you gave it your best. Looks like we're back to Everclear for now, eh? Damn, I was praying for a breakthrough here…
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