The Ethanol Papers - Paperturn manuscript - Flipbook - Page 48
The reason that gasoline became the dominant engine fuel is an economic one.
Unfortunately, it wasn't because it was economically beneficial to consumers;
which would have at least been justifiable.
PULLING THE WOOL OVER OUR EYES
A hundred years ago, alcohol (ethanol) was the engine fuel
of choice for unbiased persons-in-the-know. This was true
in America and anywhere in the world that was starting to
be impacted by that new-fangled invention, the automobile.
For alcohol to be preferred over gasoline was really rather
remarkable considering that it had to overcome the oil industry's forty-year head start in developing sophisticated
production facilities and distribution outlets.
Moreover, alcohol had to overcome an onerous $2.08 tax
on every gallon, not to mention the significant marketing 1st oil well in Texas
war chest of John Rockefeller and Standard Oil.
Even Prohibition with its severe criminal penalties for producing alcohol, which
was funded by Rockefeller's multi-million dollar "donations" to politicians, failed
to quench the thirst for ethanol in business and technology leaders who knew
The economic reason - the game-changer - was General Motor's discovery of
lead as the gasoline additive to silence annoying engine knock, while allowing
GM to build better performing engines (engines had to be dumbed-down to accommodate gasoline). By comparison, alcohol did not cause knock and could
be used to fuel higher compression engines. GM's patented process (and their
subsequent teaming with Standard Oil) meant that GM would earn about three
cents per gallon for almost every gallon of leaded "ethyl" gasoline sold. They
estimated that profits would be in the billions by the time their patents expired;
profits that they would receive regardless of a vehicle's manufacturer, as long
as the consumer used leaded gasoline. Alcohol distillation didn't offer comparable unique processes that could be patented.
With their attention riveted on this pot of gold, there was nothing that was going
to stop General Motors, not the health risks to the general population and not
even the actual deaths of dozens of employees as a result of working with the
lead formulas. Likewise, it was full-speed ahead for Standard Oil who now had
a gasoline-committed partner/customer that just happened to be the world's
number one automaker. (Although GM and Standard Oil would never be