“Ask Me About Ethanol”

Cindy Zimmerman

Here is a really interesting website with some very eye-opening history about fuel in this country.

The website is authored by Bill Kovarik, Ph.D. who co-authored a book called Forbidden Fuel back about 25 years ago, which he is in the process of updating. I met him at the ACE meeting last month and finally got to call and interview him today. It’s a pretty long interview – and I cut it down by half! – but it only scratches the surface of the fascinating history that ethanol has had in this nation.

The first link above is to Kovarik’s papers on the history of leaded gasoline – why lead was chosen over alcohol to prevent engine “knocking.” Here’s a little excerpt from one paper that is really fascinating:

Leaded gasoline was discovered on Dec. 9, 1921, at the General Motors research labs in Dayton Ohio. GM researchers had been testing fuel blends since 1916, trying to stop engine “knock.” Knock was a problem that was preventing the development of higher efficiency, higher compression engines. The problem was early, non-uniform detonation of fuels in the engine cylinder.

GM researchers tried many different additives and found quite a few that worked well. Ethyl alcohol from cellulosic materials was for many years their strong preference. “Of course” Thomas A. Midgley of GM wrote in a memo to his boss, GM research vice president Charles Kettering, alcohol was “the fuel of the future.” The great thing about alcohol was that it could be made from plants, and thus it would be available indefinitely after the oil ran out — and that made Detroit happy. But the problem was that the oil industry would not sell pure alcohol as a fuel. So Detroit needed something to bridge the gap,

This guy is a wealth of historical information. The interview runs almost 12 minutes, but he could talk for days about this stuff. He says he has a bumper sticker that reads “Ask me about ethanol – Honk and I’ll pull over.”

Listen to MP3 Kovarik Interview (11:50 min. MP3)

Audio, Ethanol