How to Make Gel Fuel
Gel fuel is an alcohol-based compound that doesn't give off toxic smoke or noxious odor when burned. Its primary use is in fireplaces, but it also has applications in catering and other indoor events where odorless fires could prove helpful.
A relatively new substance, gel fuel and its possibilities are really intriguing to me, especially since it's so easy to learn how to make it. In this guide, I'll show you how to make gel fuel safely at home.
Is Making Gel Fuel Complicated?
One of the best things about gel fuel is its simplicity. Just like wax candles, gel fuel can be created in large quantities for those who don't want to spend the coin. Its combustible property is the isopropyl alcohol content (also known as rubbing alcohol), which generally sells for only about $1 per quart—so it's very economical.
You'll also need a thickening agent to turn the rubbing alcohol into a gel. There's some debate on what the best thing to use for this is. Some have said that soy wax will do the trick. But more people seem to like a substance called calcium acetate, which can actually also be made at home pretty easily from common household items.
How to Make Calcium Acetate
Before you're ready to make gel fuel, you'll need to make calcium acetate out of chalk and white vinegar. Make sure to buy the kind of chalk that is made out of calcium carbonate, however, otherwise it won't work.
- Chalk (must be calcium carbonate kind)
- White vinegar (acetic acid)
1. Mix together four parts of white vinegar to every one part of chalk. In this case, I used 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1/8 cup of chalk.
2. Heat mixture in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about three hours. (You want 1/2 to 2/3 of the water in the mixture to evaporate.)
In this process, the calcium carbonate from the chalk and the acetic acid from the white vinegar combine to create calcium acetate and carbon dioxide (as well as some of the distilled water from the vinegar). The carbon dioxide and water will evaporate away in the oven, leaving just the calcium acetate for you to make your gel fuel with.
How to Make Gel Fuel
Once you've made (or purchased) your calcium acetate, you're ready to make your own gel fuel. Just make sure that the rubbing alcohol you bought is 99% isopropyl, otherwise the fuel won't burn very well.
- Calcium acetate (created in previous step)
- 99% Isopropyl alcohol
Mix together nine parts of isopropyl alcohol to every one part of calcium acetate. Once you have it measured out, adding the alcohol will cause the solution to begin to gel on its own rather quickly. Stir the solution to mix all of the alcohol with the calcium acetate and water mixture.
Why Isn't My Fuel Burning Well?
The total compound must be 90% alcohol or else it won't burn very well. Depending on whether you bought your calcium acetate or made it at home, you may have to add water.
If you have dry calcium acetate, you'll need to combine two parts water to every three parts calcium acetate, and stir them until the substance is dissolved. But either way, as long as the final substance is 90% rubbing alcohol, it should burn great. And just like that, you have your own gel fuel!
Want Your Fire to Pop?
Take 1 tsp of oil and 2 tsp of water for every soup can (10.75 oz) of gel fuel and mix them all together. This technique will make the fire crackle and pop when it comes across those small pockets of oil and water.
Can You Use Just Isopropyl Alcohol Instead?
I was recently informed by my friend, Greg, that burning 91% isopropyl alcohol lasts almost as long as the gel fuel solution itself. It's true that it's a bit more dangerous because of the viscosity of liquid isopropyl alcohol. But just for the pure ease, it might be worth it.
So, if you don't want to go through the hassle of making gel fuel, consider burning 91% isopropyl alcohol. Just be careful!
Gel Fuel Works Great in Ventless Fireplaces
I think we're all suckers for a good fire every now and again, especially on a cold night where indoor coziness is required. Luckily, gel fuel even crackles like a normal wood-burning fire, and one little container of gel fuel burns for about three hours.
The cool part is—as you can see from the first picture—installing a fireplace for gel fuel doesn't even require demolition or installation in the house. If you get creative, you can build a modern fireplace in a lot of different ways. The greatest thing about ventless fireplaces is that they can be freestanding. There are companies online that sell freestanding ventless fireplaces that sit against the wall and give off the appearance that they're actually a part of the wall itself. These require no installation or demolition whatsoever, and still give off the beauty of a regular fireplace.