The Ethanol Papers - Paperturn manuscript - Flipbook - Page 124
war, spurred the rapid advancement of technology in general and internal combustion engine technology in particular. Ethanol was becoming more important
in allowing automobile manufacturers to build bigger, faster, more powerful vehicles. This was a problem for the oil industry.
The advent of Prohibition presented gasoline with its next economical leg-up by
virtually prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol at any price, including
denatured undrinkable alcohol. With the discovery by General Motors' scientists
that adding tetra-ethyl lead to gasoline would mimic ethanol's anti-knock characteristics (thereby allowing gasoline to be used in higher compression engines), gasoline's dominance as the primary ICE fuel was assured. General
Motors was able to patent the process and combine with Standard Oil and
DuPont to make billions from leaded gasoline. There was no reason for the
world's largest automobile manufacturer to build vehicles that could operate on
any other fuel.
As engine design progressed, engineers designed the engines to maximize the
efficiency of the new leaded-gasoline by refining piston stroke length, spark timing, and airflow to meet the characteristics of the fuel. In other words, the fuel
didn't inherently make the mechanical components of the ICE function better,
the mechanical components were adjusted or altered to fit the fuel. If ethanol
was not ham-stringed by gasoline's economic advantages, engines would have
been designed and built to optimize the characteristics of ethanol.
Although Prohibition was repealed about a dozen years later, the advantage
given to gasoline during the critical post-war advances in motor vehicle technology and design remained an insurmountable obstacle for the re-emerging
alcohol industry. If alcohol was not drinkable in its natural, non-denatured form,
the alcohol industry would probably never have been able to recover at all in
the United States.
Nonetheless, faced with the new threat of an old competitor, the oil industry set
out to malign ethanol as a fuel. Among the lies used by the oil industry was to
exploit the coincidental difference in BTU rating (British Thermal Units) between
gasoline and ethanol. In the 1930s this was easy for the oil industry to do because automobile engines were no longer being designed to allow driver-controlled manual adjustments to carburetor airflow and spark timing. Since the
engines were now automatically restricted to run on the characteristics of gasoline, naturally any fuel with different characteristics would cause the engine to
not operate as efficiently, or operate at all. The oil industry explained this by
claiming that the higher BTU rating of gasoline made gasoline a superior fuel.
The truth was that there were simple mechanical explanations for the difference