The Ethanol Papers - Paperturn manuscript - Flipbook - Page 36
Background – The need for speed and power
In the early years of the automobile industry, there was uncertainty as to which
fuel, and what type of engine would power the new vehicles. There was steam,
electric and internal combustion. Although steam power had proven its viability
in the first stationary engines and in the first round of land and sea vehicles or
vessels, by the late 1800’s diesel was already replacing steam because of its
ability to produce higher torque (needed to move heavy vehicles/vessels) and
because it simplified the process of locomotion by not requiring a team of men
to start the coal or wood fires and keep the water boiling. By comparison, diesel
allowed faster starting and required less continuous attention to keep the engine
Electric motors could also provide high torque, but the motors required a constant flow of electricity, which could only be guaranteed if the vehicle was tethered to an electrical source. This was okay for light and heavy trains that operated along a fixed roadway, but battery technology and affordability were impractical for personal transportation devices that had the ability to travel in all
directions and to non-electrified locations.
The internal combustion engine (ICE) was the solution. There were two types
available: spark ignited and compressed hot air ignited. Compressed hot air
ignited ICE uses diesel fuel. Spark ignited internal combustion engines are today most commonly associated with gasoline, but ethanol, methanol, natural
gas, and propane can also work.
Diesel engines were heavier, bulkier, and cost more to produce. While they
could move heavier loads (torque), they couldn’t quickly provide higher speeds.
Additionally, diesels required a fuel injector technology which at the time was
also costlier and less reliable than fuel-air mix carburetors. Consequently, spark
ignited internal combustion engines became the dominant engine for passenger
cars and light trucks.
At this point the two most available fuels for spark ignited ICE were liquid; either
alcohol (ethanol or methanol) or gasoline. Alcohol enjoyed wide support from
automobile pioneers, such as Henry Ford and General Motors’ top scientists,
because it could be produced almost anywhere by almost anyone (alcohol distillation technology has been in the public domain for hundreds of years). Alcohol fuels also produced superior performance compared to gasoline. Alcoholpowered engines allowed for higher piston compression, which delivers more
speed and power. Gasoline caused a knock in high compression engines that
would literally “knock” the engine to destruction. Only low compression, lower