Fuel for the Fire

There was a sale on recently at an marine store I order from online. My wishlist there is several pages long, and whenever they have specials, I go through it to see what I need now that I can save a few dollars on. Among the essential items this time was a Contoure Heatmate 5200 stove/heater.

I already have a single burner butane stove, and a propane barbecue on the boat, so I was more interested in the cabin warming abilities of this unit than its ability to boil water. We are into the cooler days for boating now, and any time on a mooring would be much more comfortable with some economical, safe and portable source of heat.

Another reason for buying a unit like this now, is for home. It is not unusual to lose the electricity during winter storms for hours, or even days. A little heater would be quite appreciated at such a time. It would keep us warm, and cook food.

The issue, I have discovered, is what to use as fuel for the thing. It runs on non-pressurized denatured alcohol, but try finding something labelled as "denatured alcohol" in a marine or hardware store in a small town in Newfoundland. Doing a search on the internet turns up results that show even people in larger centres are having trouble buying the proper fuel. See also http://blog.bigsnit.com/2010/05/01/finding-denatured-alcohol-in-canada/.

So, I researched exactly what denatured alcohol is, and it turns out that you actually have a couple of choices for fuel in a device like this, ethanol with additives to make it undrinkable (aka methylated spirits), or methyl hydrate (methanol). The former pumps out more heat per volume, but the latter is much less expensive, however, it is more toxic. You can find methyl hydrate with the paint thinners and brake cleaners.

For food safe, you'd probably think that you can't do any better than called Fondue Fuel. A closer look at the description reveals that it "is a highly refined Methyl Hydrate that provides excellent, odour free fuel for fondue heaters and chafing dishes." Ok, so maybe it isn't as bad as I thought, in this more refined state. You can pick it up at places like Rona, Walmart and Home Hardware for about $2.50/500ml or $20 for 4L. Do not buy the gel versions for wick cylinder burners!

For a source of ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the choices are not as many, and the price jumps up a bit. The most commonly available product appears to be BioFlame Fireplace fuel. It is about $25 and comes in 3.78L jugs at both Home Hardware and Canadian Tire.

At marine stores you may find denatured alcohol products, like Captan Phab Marine Alcohol for a little over $20. Stright-MacKay has a 4L jug of fuel for $35.25, if you are willing to spend the extra coin.

Your choices and experiences will probably be different than mine, so I'd be interested in hearing what you use in your non-pressurized, wick fuel canister heater/stove.

Here is a review of the 5200 by Practical Sailor: HeatMate Takes the Chill Off - Alcohol heater-stove is a simple onboard heating solution. And a YouTube rundown on operation.