f.TrumanCommittee1943

Truman investigation

in the US Senate Judiciary Committee in 1942 found “treasonable” links between Standard Oil Co. and the Nazis.  Standard was protecting IG Farben patents in the US, deliberately delaying critical war materials development in order to help their industrial allies make a profit. More »

f.synthRubber

Synthetic rubber

 …  was a crucial war material that could be made from ethanol or, with the right technology, from petroleum or coal. The problem with the petroleum and coal technology was that it had been licensed by Standard Oil in a partnership with the Nazi chemical company, I.G. Farben, which of More »

f.standardoil

The oil industry

 has never been happy about competition, especially from ethanol.  And yet, after a century and a half of conflict, octane boosting ethanol blends have become standard in US gasoline. How did that happen? How did the oil industry fight its competitors?  And why didn’t it win? More »

Henry Ford sits in his pride and joy, the 1896 Quadricycle. ca. 1890s Detroit, Michigan, USA

Henry Ford

 was an advocate for ethyl alcohol fuel early in his career. Like many Detroit auto-makers, he was worried more about long-term oil availability than the price of ethanol (which was reasonable but higher than gasoline).  He also hoped that ethanol production would fuel a rural renaissance for the farms he More »

F.Agrol.2

Agrol

 … was a 1937-39 blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol sold in 2,000 Midwestern service stations.  The idea was to boost fuel “octane,” and the farm economy, without having to use tetra-ethyl lead. More »

F.Spalding.factory

Lamp fuel

 was simply called “burning fluid” in the years before kerosene from petroleum was introduced. This illustration is from a turpentine / alcohol blending plant in Boston, 1853. More »

Pyro.lamp.9.17

Home lighting

 was the original use for ethanol. From around the 1820s onward, ethyl alcohol in blends with turpentine became increasingly common, far surpassing whale oil in the 1850s.  Use fell off after an 1862 tax on ethanol, which was lifted by trust buster Teddy Roosevelt and Congress in 1906. This ad, from More »

f.DiscolLogo

Discol

 was a racing fuel developed by Harry Ricardo that was sold commercially between 1930 and 1965 in Britain.  Many preferred it to toxic leaded gasoline. More »

The fuel of the future in context

synthol.closeup

By Bill Kovarik

The grain ethanol industry has always been controversial.

In the early 21st century, critics point out that the ethanol industry won’t avert climate disaster since it has only a moderately positive net energy balance (or carbon footprint).

Fair enough. This may be true for now, although second generation biofuels actually do hold that promise.

But it’s important to understand the historical context:   The corn ethanol industry was  not originally created as a way to shift to low-carbon fuels two centuries ago.

The original ethanol industry provided the main ingredient for the lamp fuel industry in the decades before  kerosene.  This fuel – camphene – was taxed out of existence in the US during the 1860s, but returned with the backing of Henry Ford and Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.

When geologists said oil was  running out just after World War I, ethanol was seen as one important answer.  When engines needed better fuels in the 1920s, ethanol was seen as superior to tetra-ethyl-lead (“leaded gasoline”) octante boosters.  When farmers needed new markets in the 1930s, ethanol was billed as a way to avoid farm relief. And when the Arabs cut off oil supplies to the US in the 1970s, an ethanol industry was built to provide emergency fuel supplies.

Truman investigation

f.TrumanCommittee1943

in the US Senate Judiciary Committee in 1942 found “treasonable” links between Standard Oil Co. and the Nazis.  Standard was protecting IG Farben patents in the US, deliberately delaying critical war materials development in order to help their industrial allies make a profit.

Synthetic rubber

f.synthRubber

f.synthRubber …  was a crucial war material that could be made from ethanol or, with the right technology, from petroleum or coal. The problem with the petroleum and coal technology was that it had been licensed by Standard Oil in a partnership with the Nazi chemical company, I.G. Farben, which of course was infamous for constructing a synthetic gasoline plant that used slave labor for Auschwitz concentration camp.

Thar she blows! The whale oil myth surfaces again

Whaling fleet-768

The whaling fleet was done in because whales became scarce, and better, non-petroleum fuels were already available.  Petroleum did not arrive, as a gift from the free market, to suddenly light a world busy trying to exterminate the whales. Whale oil was on the way out by the 1860s, and the petroleum industry has benefited from the start from subsidies and tax breaks. 

By Bill Kovarik
The Daily Climate

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, Edwin Drake stuck a pipe into a cleared patch of Pennsylvania timberland and started pumping the country’s first crude petrol. He changed the world, no question. But he didn’t save the whales.

What’s the connection? Every so often a writer or economist, usually right-leaning and supportive of an unfettered free-market, credits Drake’s discovery and the rise of kerosene as reason for the collapse of whale oil demand and the subsequent salvation of cetaceans.

The problem with the miracle whale oil story is it’s irresponsible and historically fake.

The argument goes something like this: The United States didn’t need government research and subsidies to transition from whale oil to kerosene in the 1850s, and, similarly, we don’t need government intervention on energy sources in the free market today. The market saved the whales, and now it will save the Earth.

The oil industry

f.standardoil

f.standardoil has never been happy about competition, especially from ethanol.  And yet, after a century and a half of conflict, octane boosting ethanol blends have become standard in US gasoline. How did that happen? How did the oil industry fight its competitors?  And why didn’t it win?

Henry Ford

Henry Ford sits in his pride and joy, the 1896 Quadricycle. ca. 1890s Detroit, Michigan, USA

Henry Ford sits in his pride and joy, the 1896 Quadricycle. ca. 1890s Detroit, Michigan, USA was an advocate for ethyl alcohol fuel early in his career. Like many Detroit auto-makers, he was worried more about long-term oil availability than the price of ethanol (which was reasonable but higher than gasoline).  He also hoped that ethanol production would fuel a rural renaissance for the farms he loved.

Agrol

F.Agrol.2

F.Agrol.2 … was a 1937-39 blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol sold in 2,000 Midwestern service stations.  The idea was to boost fuel “octane,” and the farm economy, without having to use tetra-ethyl lead.

Lamp fuel

F.Spalding.factory

F.Spalding.factory was simply called “burning fluid” in the years before kerosene from petroleum was introduced. This illustration is from a turpentine / alcohol blending plant in Boston, 1853.

Home lighting

Pyro.lamp.9.17

Pyro.lamp.9.17 was the original use for ethanol. From around the 1820s onward, ethyl alcohol in blends with turpentine became increasingly common, far surpassing whale oil in the 1850s.  Use fell off after an 1862 tax on ethanol, which was lifted by trust buster Teddy Roosevelt and Congress in 1906. This ad, from a 1909 National Grange magazine, shows the return of home lighting with an alcohol lamp helping a mother take care of her children.

Discol

f.DiscolLogo

f.DiscolLogo was a racing fuel developed by Harry Ricardo that was sold commercially between 1930 and 1965 in Britain.  Many preferred it to toxic leaded gasoline.