Introduction: Acetone Recycler (Industrial Waste Management)

Picture of Acetone Recycler (Industrial Waste Management)

By taking what is consider waste in many shops and factories and recycling into a re-usable product makes this Instructable invaluable to many. Where I work, ACETONE used to be taken to a treatment plant or allowed to evaporate (non-intentional). By recovering the used acetone and RECYCLING it, I don't need to buy as much or pay for disposal. This machine can be used with many chemicals, but is isolated to acetone in this Instructable.

Building this mostly with used and recycled materials is beneficial as well. I only had to buy a few items. A commercial unit is thousands of dollars (I don't have).

In this state, the resulting solid mass is declassified as a hazard and can be taken to any waste management station. Check your local laws and regulations. Acetone is flammable, treat it as such. This means using the machine in a well ventilated area (outside) and keeping a fire extinguisher around.

All comments, suggestions, and advise are accepted. This is my first so be kind :)

Step 1:

Collect materials:

I had most of these materials available as used items laying around the shop. Some were used, some were stock.

work cart (used alot ) Makes this unit mobile :)
various copper pipe and fittings (2", 1", 3/4", 3/8") and a torch w/solder and flux)
various pvc pipe and fittings (6", 4". 3/4") (and primer,cement)
old radiator (and rubber hose :) )
radiator fan (an A.C. fan would omit the next part. I used one that was wrecked)
D.C. power supply (purchased-Radio Shack)
water pump (spa type)
hot plate (definitly used) DONT USE AN OPEN FLAME TO HEAT!
pressure cooker (found at goodwill for 10 bucks)
ceramic chips (actually tumbler pieces)
screen (leftover from a project)
electrical box and switch (purchased-ACE)
epoxy (2 part)
water (glycol for winter)
Acetone can be dangerous in beginner hands. Learn about what your doing before doing it.

Before starting a project like this I recommend learning how to solder, join PVC, drill holes, ETC. I won't explain how in this Instructable because it would be really long and boring :)

Step 2:

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I guess we'll start with the beginning of the process. Acetone is heated to it's boiling point. It then travels as a heated vapor through a tower (fraction column) filled with ceramic chips ( a simple replacement for steps) that allows some of it to condense and fall back into the boiling chamber. This keeps most of the contaminates out of the final product. Once the heated vapor reaches the top of the tower, it makes it's way into the cooling tower. The vapor is condensed into liquid and is dispensed out of the bottom of the cooling tower as pure liquid acetone.

Thanks to Wiki, you see the process is simple. This is the basic idea. I gave it a little flair by using a water jacket around the fraction column. I can allow super heated vapor to condense wherever in the column to increase the speed of the system.

Step 3:

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Construction of the cooling tower is straight forward. It's a length of 4" pvc filled with water and capped. Then wrapped with 3/8" copper and enclosed with a length of 6" pvc pipe. Holes cut into the top and bottom of the 6" pipe allow the coolant (water) to flow around the 3/8" copper pipe.

I used through wall fittings for the coolant (1"&3/4"). The T at the top is where I fill the coolant. The expansion tank is connected to it when it's running.

I used another piece of 6" pipe as a base for the cooling tower. I sealed the 3/8" copper with epoxy.

Pretty much all of the leaks were fixed with epoxy :)

Step 4:

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Construction of the fraction column is as follows:

This very simple depiction shows the principle. I used 2" copper pipe as the jacket and 1" copper pipe as the carrier. 2, 2x1x2 T's allowed me to travel a 1" pipe through it. I soldered a piece of screen at the bottom of the 1" pipe to keep the chips from falling into the boiler. Then I filled the 1" pipe with the chips leaving a little room at the top. I used reduction couples to get back to 1" for the the boiler and vapor outlet at the top. The vapor was then reduced to 3/8".

The bottom of the fraction tower is plumbed into the pressure cooker.

Step 5:

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I mounted the radiator on a short side of the cart because it fit nicely. The fan needed a power supply that was 12v dc so I bought a 15 amp power supply from Radio Shack and wired it to my main switch. Then to the fans of course. The fans run continously when the main switch is in the on position (I might automate later). It has more cooling power than is needed for this process.

The hot plate is wired into the same main switch. It has a thermostat to control the heat. The power consumed in the process is hardly worth a mention.

Step 6:

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Putting it all together. I used a few unions in the copper pipe so I could easily disassemble the cooling tower for maintenance or problems.

The hardest part is judging where the parts will line up to connect. As you can see in my pics, it is important to make things line up correctly. By assemebling the cooling tower and fraction tower before hand, you can plumb the rest of it easily.

I designed a bypass valve for the fraction column to regulate the amount of water that flows through it. This allows higher production of the unit.

Step 7:

Now that things are assembled you can leak test the cooling system:

1: Fill the system with water from the expansion port.
2: Turn on the circulating pump.
3: Check for leaks.

No leaks? Good for you! I had a few that were fixed with some epoxy :)

Step 8:

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Fill your pressure cooker with nasty CONTAMINATED ACETONE!! (Good idea to filter it first with a paint filter or strainer)

1: Make sure all of the fittings are tight.
2: Turn on the hot plate to it's lowest setting.
3: Monitor the temperature at the TOP of the refracting tower. Acetone boils at 134 F. You'll actually see lower temps as the acetone boils off because there won't be any at the top of the tower.
4: Be patient, the vapor will make it's way to the cooling tower and condense into liquid. This takes awhile for everything to equalize. Slowly increase the temps until you see liquid.
5: When you see liquid coming from the bottom of the cooling tower make sure it is pure (clear).
6: If it is not, you have a problem. Probably too hot. Otherwise, collect it into another clean,empty acetone container.

Step 9:

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You should be producing pure acetone at this point.

This machine produces pure acetone at the rate of 1.5 gallons an hour. You can get better results by turning up the heat and using the bypass valve to cool the fraction tower. This takes time and testing that I have not done. I'm satisfied because commercial units that cost at least $7,000 will barely keep up with this RECYCLED unit.

I thought of using solar power to heat the boiler, and a geo-thermal cooling system. This would be most economical.

I also had plans to enclose it, but it looks kinda cool the way it is. It also works, so why mess with it?


DominiqueD32 (author)2016-12-03

Master Roda,

8 years later and I am reading your instructions.

I plan to make one of these. We use A LOT of acetone for cleaning our tools (polyester and epoxi resin work). It currently goes to waste.

Have you made any improvements to the machine in the past 8 years?

Does it still work?

Thanks alot for the effort.

Master Roda (author)DominiqueD322016-12-04

Yes, it still works. I haven't needed to increase capacity so no changes. I'm glad you find this instructable useful! Cheers!

GilbertoM3 (author)2015-09-13

Please, you mention a commercial unit: can you give me the name of a similar product or the producer/producers of a recycling machine for acetone?

jorgeguillermo (author)2012-08-19


egbertfitzwilly (author)2009-04-26

Where do you get the chips? You say they are "tumbler chips" but I'm not sure what that means.

You can use anything similar to ceramic chips. I used tumbler chips used in manufacture that de-burr machined parts. I suppose you could break apart a coffee cup and get the same results.

dpsilver (author)Master Roda2010-02-24

could i use those decorative glass beads that they sell 

zavala1234 (author)2009-11-18

this can be use to make alcohol nice ....

theRIAA (author)2009-04-16

nice instructable. It sounds really fun to build and use.. but what do you use that much acetone for...?

Master Roda (author)theRIAA2009-04-16

Cleaning paint guns and composite tooling. Thanks for the comment.

MasterMonkey (author)Master Roda2009-10-06

This is awesome! Can i link to it?

zavala1234 (author)2009-10-06

you can make with this machine alchol to nice job

swatson30 (author)2009-05-13

Very creative work here. Nice Job!!!

hwatson (author)2009-04-22

This seems like something that will help a lot of business get rid of waste. Good job!!!!!!!

m_brooks (author)2009-04-21

NICE WORK DUDE!! told you I would check it out!!

Master Roda (author)m_brooks2009-04-21

Thanks! Your the best :)

Holden_vy_s (author)2009-04-17

So this could be used to remove pollutants from mineral turpentine? Also, people should be aware the Acetone self ignites at 450 °C, which will probably lead to a large explosion with all that Acetone vapor.

Master Roda (author)Holden_vy_s2009-04-17

Only if you have an ignition source. I also keep a fire extinguisher on hand while it's running just in case.

Holden_vy_s (author)Master Roda2009-04-18

No, it will auto ignite. Meaning if the Acetone reaches its autoignition temperature it will spontaneously ignite without an external ignition source. Say you put a piece of paper in an electric oven heated to 230C, the paper will ignite itself, without a flame.

Master Roda (author)Holden_vy_s2009-04-18

The intent is to recycle the acetone, not detonate it. If anyone has the intention of building an explosive, this isn't the most practical way. I understand what your saying, but like you said, even paper will ignite if it's allowed to.

Holden_vy_s (author)Master Roda2009-04-18

I'm not talking about making explosives, im saying you should make people aware. I'm not sure how hot you're heating your Acetone, but some people may decide to use a gas burner or something and think it will increase the rate of recycling by ramping up the temperature.

Master Roda (author)Holden_vy_s2009-04-19

That's why I am specific about using ELECTRIC HEAT Acetone BOILS at 134 F Thats a LOW temperature. I think Arizona is hotter than that most of the time! Only darwin candidates would use an open flame around any flammable.....including acetone. That's why there are no smoking signs at the gas station.

Lego man (author)Master Roda2009-04-19

Actually here in Arizona i have only experienced 134+ degree temperatures only once or twice. We usually have it in the high 80's - low 100's. I know that is completely irrelevant to the conversation though. Anyways i really like what you have done here in this instructable. Too bad i don't have any acetone to cleanse. :(

Master Roda (author)Lego man2009-04-19

Thanks! I love Arizona! I wish I could live there.

Master Roda (author)Master Roda2009-04-18

I'll elaborate on my comment. Even if the hot plate was turned on the highest setting, it would boil the acetone (takes energy which keeps the temp low) and blow it out of the cooling tower. Once the acestone is gone, there is no source to "auto-ignite". This would happen long before the temperature in the boiler would reach those temperatures (450c).

1Scray (author)2009-04-17

While this is a cool build and great idea, it raises several safety issue....the main one being when dealing with solvent vapors and recovery units like this, these units need to be made intrinsically safe along with the rest of the electrical components in the room with the unit. I am sure you made a solid unit, but in the real world this is a time bomb, both physically and legally. I would keep an OSHA inspector away from this.

Master Roda (author)1Scray2009-04-18

Also, an OSHA inspector has seen this unit and was more concerned with the electrical box being sealed than the apparent dangers. Go figure.

jeandeau (author)2009-04-16

excellent practical instructable. others may adapt this to recycling similar products

teddy818 (author)jeandeau2009-04-16

hypothetically speaking of course cant you use this to make moonshine??? hypothetically speaking of course ;)

PKM (author)teddy8182009-04-17

Hypothetically speaking, yes you could, if you hypothetically had a source of alcohol etc. and knew all the risks (health and legal) involved in hypothetically making theoretical moonshine.

Master Roda (author)PKM2009-04-18

Source? Nature provides the source. laws provide the peace of mind :)

hcold (author)PKM2009-04-17

Or if, hypothetically, you lived in a country where it was legal to produce your own moonshine. Feels good, man.

Master Roda (author)hcold2009-04-18

Freedom is a good thing is'nt it?

oakback (author)teddy8182009-04-17

Haha, I was thinking the exact same thing, saw the diagram and though "isn't that a reflux still?" (though you would want to stay away from using any PVC for distilling anything you plan on consuming)

Master Roda (author)oakback2009-04-18

The PVC is far from contact with the solvent. Besides, there are several moonshine distillers online to buy.

Plasmana (author)2009-04-17

That is really cool! But I don't have the parts to make it...

Master Roda (author)Plasmana2009-04-18

They are easy to aquire. If you don't have a need to recycle acetone though, forget it :)

rockndb (author)2009-04-17

Interesting. Could this be used as a desalinator as well?

Master Roda (author)rockndb2009-04-17

Yes. It would work very well as a water purifier.

DeusXMachina (author)Master Roda2009-04-18

Eh. The copper would corrode after a while from the salt and water.

Master Roda (author)DeusXMachina2009-04-18

You would replace the copper with stainless. Everything else would stay the same.

thermoelectric (author)2009-04-17

Great Instructable.

There is a spelling error:

step 8
Fill your pressure cooker with nasty CONTAMINATED ACESTONE!!

Noted and fixed. Thank you.

You're welcome. I'm going to see if my dad uses acetone a lot, because this machine looks so cool!

lemonie (author)2009-04-17

Super! Have you any plans to add a feed to the boiler so that you can add more acetone while it's running? L

Master Roda (author)lemonie2009-04-17

Good question! Yes, I would also like to automate it.

lemonie (author)Master Roda2009-04-17

Stirrer in the boiler? L

Master Roda (author)lemonie2009-04-17

I think there is too much gunk in there to stir it. It works great the way it is. I just want to have it regulate the temperature and turn off automatically when it's done. Shouldn't take too much to do that.

lemonie (author)Master Roda2009-04-17

How wet is this? I'm thinking that you might be able to get it to trip above a certain vapour temperature, but then again the boiler-wall would probably be as good. Best wishes anyway. L

Master Roda (author)lemonie2009-04-17

I used a thermometer at the top of the fraction tower until I found a setting on the hot plate that works the best. I have since removed it. Having it all manual makes me watch it closely :)

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