Last week, I had a chance to check out a new device for making ethanol for use as a fuel in personal vehicles.
This new system, which was introduced earlier this year, The EFuel100 MicroFueler,™ is the world’s first portable ethanol micro-refinery system, making it possible for homeowners and small businesses to safely and cost-effectively create their own fuel, on-site. I am in no means putting down the EFuel100 MicroFueler™, but, if you are thinking about purchasing one of these units, there are real safety and health issues that have to be considered and observed when handling ethanol or ethyl alcohol.
To start with, ethanol is a hazardous chemical and quoting from the “Hazardous Chemical Desk Reference” by Saks and Lewis, ethanol has a health rating of 3, (0=no health effect, 4= maximum health effect) and a flash point of 56.5°F. (Any flash point below 100°F is classified a flammable liquid). Ethanol is moderately toxic by ingestion, intravenous and skin contact, and is a dangerous fire hazard when exposed to heat, open flames and sources of ignition. Ethanol is also a reproductive hazard.
Ethanol evaporates and vapors will ignite when concentrated enough in the right conditions. Having a fire extinguisher handy is mandatory. Remember: No Smoking, No Open Flames or Sources of Ignition, No Welding, No Small Appliances (hot plates and coffee makers). They may spark and ignite ethanol vapors if conditions are concentrated enough. Be sure to always work in a well ventilated area.
Another important safety factor to consider when handling ethanol is using safety glasses and having a special eye wash bottle handy for a splashed eye emergency. Ethanol will cause severe irritaiton to the eyes and if not removed immediately, can cause chemical conjunctivitis and possible corneal damage. Always wear saftey glasses when handling ethanol.
Here is a link to the chemical characteristics of ethanol, a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is provided for your review. I would encourage anyone who is not familar with ethanol and is going to work with ethanol, check out the ethanol MSDS.