This video shows how to make a Sterno type fuel I developed while I was experimenting with a way to make a low cost home made emergency cooker. I have used an improvised emergency cooker before.During the two weeks I was without power from Hurricane Andrew, I was unprepared and used a simple lid from a jar that I filled with alcohol. I removed the heating element from my electric kitchen stove and set the lid down in the stove and placed pans on top to heat up cans of food.
This worked surprisingly well for reheating canned food and boiling water, was super cheap and easy to make but was very dangerous. I wanted to come up with a way to make a simple improvised cooker out of available material that would be safer than a lid with alcohol. My thoughts turned to Sterno fuel. In reality, during my 2 week power outage I was basically just boiling water and reheating canned food, I wasn’t doing much cooking.
Sterno has been around for years and is quite safe to use, and reheats food well though it is not a great cooking fuel. I started looking at ways to make my own Sterno fuel. I saw several methods to make Sterno fuel but was unconvinced many people would be willing to make their own . I started thinking about the easiest way to make a safe Sterno type fuel. I experimented with several substances before remembering diatomaceous earth I used to use as a filter aid when I worked in chemistry manufacturing. This substance is extremely absorbent and has many other useful properties.
I tried different ratios and was very happy with my final results. By mixing two parts of diatomaceous earth to one part 70% rubbing alcohol, I was able to make a thick stable paste that would burn safely without any danger of spillage and should have a minimum of particulate matter released into the air while being burnt.
The diatomaceous earth is very low cost and readily available as a filter aid in pools, and to a lesser extent in food grade which can be used in pest control. There is a danger in breathing the dust, and I also would caution the burning of any material in recycled cans as they may have a coating which could give off toxins when burned. The diatomaceous earth will also give off some burnt matter into the air , but it is almost entirely silica and a tiny amount of clay. It would be best to use it in a ventilated area also.
This fuel I made is limited in its uses. If you have a regular alcohol or other liquid fuel stove and are not worried about spillage, there would be no need to make this fuel. Nor would you need to try this if you had a solid fuel stove and an outdoor or highly ventilated area to use it. However, I thought this home made Sterno type fuel was unusual and unique, at least to me,and may find a use where a person was cconcerned about spillage and needed a stable and safe solid fuel that stored well. This fuel would also make an excellent fire starter.
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Wikipedia comments on Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It is used as a filtration aid, mild abrasive, mechanical insecticide, absorbent for liquids, matting agent for coatings, reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber, anti-block in plastic films, porous support for chemical catalysts, cat litter, activator in blood clotting studies, and a stabilizing component of dynamite. As it is heat-resistant, it can also be used as a thermal insulator.
The absorbent qualities of diatomite can result in a significant drying of the hands if handled without gloves. The flux-calcined form contains a highly crystalline form of silica, resulting in sharp edges. The sharpness of this version of the material makes it dangerous to breathe and a dust mask is recommended when working with it.
The type of hazard posed by inhalation depends on the form of the silica. Crystalline silica poses a serious inhalation hazard because it can cause silicosis. Amorphous silica can cause dusty lungs and silicosis, but does not carry the same degree of risk as crystalline silica. Natural or dried diatomite generally contains crystalline silica. Diatomite produced for pool filters is treated with high heat (calcining) and a fluxing agent (soda ash), causing the formerly silicon dioxide to assume its crystalline form. A mask is necessary for working with either product.
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