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Recomendations on alternatives to steam


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I'm working on a low $ solution to power an 80 gallon still. It's looking like I'll have access to three phase power, standard wall voltage and gas.

From what I understand, direct fire with gas seems to be one of the lower cost methods of powering a still on the cheap and easy (albeit not super efficient) but I'm not super keen on the lack of precise temp control. Not ruling it out, but I'm inclined to find other options if feasible.

I've got a healthy fear of electric and all that goes along with the rigging of it, but i've read some account(s) of 3 phase power being a decent solution for powering a small still — If I were to pursue this route, I'm not quite sure how best to make use of the three phase. Any recommendations? I have been thinking along the lines of the following solutions...

1. porting in 3-4 cartridge heaters directly into the pot

2. wrapping the still with heat tape

3. building a mini steam generator from a sanke keg and heating that with an element or cartridge - and ultimately running a steam coil into the base of the pot.

If anyone has any insight/recommendations/experience I'd love to hear it.

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Sanke keg steam generator sounds interesting, might look into that myself. You could fire the keg with gas and still have good heat control as it's not directly heating the boiler. The steam itself will act as a buffer to stabilize heat range.

BUT....from all I've researched folks recommend against a coil in the still boiler. Will be hard to clean and maintain.

Run a jacket system around the boiler for the steam, with insulated jacket on outside of it to hold the heat.

OR build a false bottom onto the boiler and use it as a jacket, probably easier.

If using steam/hot water be sure to heed all the safety warnings with relief valves in several spots.


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The name of the game with steam or jacket heating is to maximize surface area. A false bottom will yield minimal heating area and would be very slow. One solution is to wrap the outside of your still with copper tube, if its tight and you use some type of hx grease then wrap in insulation you should get pretty good heat transfer. You want to make sure you size your heating coil properly though, I can help you with that. For 3ph I would look on ebay and around for a commercial steam generator, just make sure you get one that uses less power than your elec service. If you are mechanically inclined you can make your own steam generator, just make sure keep safety in mind.

For real precise control you can go with a p glycol bath and a heat controller. Direct heat is cheap and easy but not appropriate for all types of distillation, there is a good discussion about direct heat on this forum. Many folks start this way and end up upgrading shortly after, may as well do whats best the first time around in my opinion.

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Vendome makes a small still that uses an electric heater/boiler and oil transfer using a pump. This allows higher temperatures at atmospheric pressure. That heating unit is available from another vendor, but it would work more safely with the sanke keg.

If you pursue the electric 3phase thing, you will use an element per phase, and then gang those together with something like four sets of elements, and stage those sets on/off within the proportional band of your temp controller. When it's below the proportional band, all four sets of elements would be on, then as you approach setpoint, the sets of elements shut-down. If you operate above atmospheric, you should consider control based on pressure rather than temperature.

Good luck.

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