April 28, 2006 -- You could be forgiven for not expecting the next John D. Rockefeller to come from Tullahoma, Tenn., of all places. But right in Tullahoma, in his garage-turned-factory, you can find Bill Sasher -- the father of do-it-yourself ethanol.
Doing it yourself means buying one of Sasher's stills or still-building kits. A fully assembled ethanol kit still costs about $1,400, and Sasher, who runs Dogwood Energy, says with the price of gasoline nudging toward $3 a gallon, business is booming. In the last two months, orders are up 300 percent.
"That's excellent," Sasher says with a smile, "we'd like to keep that up."
Sasher told us in an interview this week that his business has expanded beyond U.S. borders to Africa and India. People, he says, are just fed up with absorbing pain at the pump.
"We get anywhere from primarily mild statements to expletives of why they don't like big oil, basically," says Sasher.
Sasher says that by filling 15 percent of your car's gas tank with ethanol -- the corn-based alternative fuel -- and the rest with gasoline, you can bring down the price-per-gallon from $3 to about $2.40. You can make about five gallons of ethanol every hour from his stills, and it's not very difficult, he says.
Yeast, sugar, corn and water are mashed together and left to ferment for two days or more. The mash is then brought to a boil, with the mash vapors rising into the still tower, where they are cooled and condensed into ethanol. Of course, if you don't add the ingredient that makes ethanol unfit for human consumption, you would find yourself with something else: 190 proof moonshine.
"You can make moonshine with it," Sasher concedes, before adding with a grin, "It's against the law, though."
Buyers Happy With Results
Marrcus Mollenarro of Kenosha, Wis., can't wait to operate the still Sasher just sent him.
"I was really pleased to find that there is a solution to this otherwise nightmare problem of gas prices," he says.
But ethanol should be made with extreme care. Douglas Durante, at the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, is all for ethanol or other alternatives to gasoline, but he worries that people may not know what they're getting into when they purchase a still.
"It's a very volatile, combustible fuel like gasoline. So there are some safety issues, as you would want to handle any fuel properly," he warns. When asked about the possibility of investing in a still, Migdalia Santiago of Chicago looked a bit puzzled.
"I'd be afraid it would blow up my house," she tells ABC News.
Not to worry, says Sasher.
"You can safely add 15 percent of ethanol to gasoline and run any vehicle safely," he emphasizes.
Sasher says business is so good he is about to expand to a larger warehouse and may soon build another. He sees the current high price of gas as a long-lasting phenomenon.
Asked whether Tennessee's long and colorful history with stills -- of both the legal and illegal variety -- had given him experience that amounted to an unfair advantage over competitors in other parts of the country, Sasher chuckles.
"We've had experience, but we're not going to comment on that."