The War Against Ethanol Began In The 1920s

  • Tuesday, 27 September 2016 12:53

Big Oil has been fighting the ethanol industry for a long time. Since the 1920s, to be exact. 

In a recent feature by Automobile Magazine, the publication traces the roots of the war against ethanol to 1921 when ethanol was considered as an additive to gasoline to pervent engine-knocking as well as it's capability to support higher compression.

General Motors' (GM) then mechanical engineer, Thomas Midgley said the benefits of using ethanol, according to the article, were " clean burning and freedom from any carbon deposit...tremendously high compression under which alcohol will operate without knocking ...Because of the possible high compression, the available horsepower is much greater with alcohol than with gasoline."

In fact, the article adds, Midgley even drove a car powered with E30 (!!) to a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers in Indianapolis in 1920 to prove his point. Yes, E30 was available in 1920.

Nonetheless, GM had a research lab that was also developing another solution to prevent engine-knocking. That solution? Lead. 

"Though better petroleum stock and advancements in refining technology - chiefly the process known as catalytic cracking - might have obviated the need for additives, the industry was loath to spend money where none had to be spent. Additives that cost little and required no capital investment were attractive fixes, and (Charles) Kettering's GM lab, sensing profits, experimented with several. This attracted the interest of its corporate masters at DuPont and the busybodies at Standard Oil of New Jersey, which joined the new business they setup to sell their preferred choice: lead," the article said.

And why lead and not ethanol?

The article offered the following: "Ethanol could not be patented, and Standard hated it because it direcly displaced gasoline."

So there you have it, Big Oil has been threatened by ethanol for nearly a century.

And interestingly enough, many scientists and engineers today still echoe what Midgley said back in 1920. Will we finally listen to them or continue to bend to Big Oil's will?