Nikolaus August Otto• The “father” of the internal combustion engine.• His engine ran on alcohol.
The first prototype internalcombustion engine, developed in1826, ran on a mixture of alcohol and turpentine.
And So To Gasoline• Before motor cars became widespread, the most useful product from crude oil was kerosene which was used for lighting lamps.
• This left, among other things, gasoline which was far too flammable to burn in lamps, since it was liable to cause an explosion
Gasoline Disposal• A small amount of gasoline was sold as a solvent for domestic and industrial cleaning.• Most oil refiners dumped their gasoline into the nearest river
BIG OIL• The oil companies saw the automobile as the answer to their prayers as an outlet for their highly volatile and dangerous gasoline.
However, there was a problem!• Gasoline tended to explode in the cylinders of the internal combustion engine, rather than burning smoothly.• This produced a noise commonly called knocking or pinking.It caused a reduction in fuel efficiency, as well as damage to the engine.
So the search was on to find an antiknocking agent.
By 1917 this search had turned to alcohol.• In tests supervised by Thomas Midgley, who worked in the research division of General Motors, it was found that alcohols were amongst the best antiknock additives.
The reason was simple• The alcohol referred to here is ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol. It mixes freely with gasoline, but it reacts with oxygen more slowly.• It is therefore possible to control the rate of burning of the fuel in the engine.
By 1921 Midgley was driving hiscar on a mixture of 30% alcohol and 70% gasoline
• In the meantime, Henry Ford had designed his first car to run on alcohol alone.
• Also, as late as 1928, the famous Ford Model A could change from running on gasoline to alcohol by flicking a switch on the dashboard.
• Of course, the idea of alcohol becoming a partial or total replacement for gasoline did not appeal to the oil companies, so they sought an alternative antiknock additive that did not threaten their sales and profits.
It’s That Man Midgley Again• Less than two months after he had been singing the praises of alcohol to the American Society of Automotive Engineers, Thomas Midgley discovered that the addition of tetraethyl lead (TEL) to gasoline also acted as an antiknock agent.
Tetraethyl lead• TEL was added to gasoline in very small amounts, so the profits of Big Oil were not threatened as they would have been by the use of alcohol.
ETHYL• A new company, called the Ethyl Corporation, was formed to produce TEL.
Lead: a neurotoxin• Notice that lead, which was a well known neurotoxin, was not included in the name of the new company which was jointly owned by General Motors and Standard Oil of New Jersey.
Toxicity• The toxicity of concentrated TEL was recognized early; many TEL researchers and workers, including Midgley, became victims of lead poisoning, and dozens died. In 1925, the sales of TEL were suspended for one year to conduct a hazard assessment.
Dr. Robert Kehoe• The Hazard assessment was conducted by• Dr. Robert Kehoe of the University of Cincinnati, who was the Ethyl Corporations chief medical consultant.
Guess his conclusions• In 1928, he managed to convince the U.S. Surgeon General that there was no basis for concluding that leaded fuels posed any health threat.
And the opposition?• Independent scientists who exposed the scientific inconsistencies in his work, were severely criticized and sometimes threatened by the lead interests, and even by the Surgeon General and the Department of Public Health.
Enter Clair Patterson• This name should be as instantly recognized as Newton or Einstein, but it is not the case.
What’s in a name• Even respected scientific publications have got it wrong because despite the name, Clair Patterson was a man.
HIS RISE TO FAME• He determined the age of the Earth to be 4.5 billion years; this was a problem that had troubled Lord Kelvin for the latter part of his life, and this alone should have earned Patterson a Nobel Prize.
AGE OF THE EARTH• He determined the age of the Earth by measuring small amounts of lead contained in meteorites
CONTAMINATION?• However, this proved to be rather difficult because his samples contained much more lead than expected.
SCIENCE’S FIRST STERILE LABORATORY• By studying these samples in the world’s first truly sterile laboratory, he found lead levels about 200 times higher than they should have been.
ICE-CORE SAMPLING• His results were simply not believed, so he pioneered the technique of ice-core sampling, and showed that lead levels in the Greenland ice sheet had indeed increased by 100 – 200 times over pre- industrial levels.
THE END FOR LEAD?• The lead industry’s days of conning the Surgeon General and the public at large were clearly coming to an end.
PHOTOCHEMICAL SMOG• By this time, chemical smog was a problem in many cities, and reluctant authorities were forced to take action to counter pollution from car exhausts.
THE CATALYTIC CONVERTER • One of the methods of reducing this pollution was by inserting a catalytic converter into the car’s exhaust system.
POISONED PLATINUM• Catalytic converters contain expensive platinum catalysts which would be “poisoned” by the lead additive in petrol.
ETHYL CORPORATION SOLD• In 1962 the Ethyl Corporation was sold to the Albemarle Paper Company which was less than one tenth of its size; it had to borrow $200 million to make the purchase.
A STRANGE PURCHASE• At the time it was the largest leveraged buyout in history, a bit like the corner grocery buying out Tesco.
G.M. IS SUSPECTSome cynics have suggested that General Motors promoted this sale because they could foresee that when catalytic converters were fitted to cars, leaded gasoline could no longer be used.
NON-LEAD ANTIKNOCK ADDITIVES• With the demise of leaded gasoline, we might have expected that alcohol would again be universally embraced as the antiknock agent of choice.
BIG OIL STILL DOESN’T WANT ALCOHOL• Sadly, it appears that Big Oil is now just as determined that alcohol will not be a partial replacement for gasoline in motor fuel, as it was 90 years ago.
SO WHAT NOW?• Trimethyl pentane is perhaps the antiknocking agent of first choice, but organomanganese compounds, ethers, aromatics, reformed naphtha compounds, and even catenanes are being, or have been used.
AND ALCOHOL?• Alcohol is actually being used in some countries as a blend with gasoline, but not on the scale that would be expected, given the dwindling level of the Earth’s crude oil reserves, never mind Thomas Midgley’s enthusiastic endorsement of 1921.
THOMAS MIDGLEY• Thomas Midgley was an engineer, and the world would have been a much better place, had he remained so. Apart from poisoning the planet with lead, his other contribution to mankind was the group of compounds called freons which have led to the partial destruction of the Earth’s ozone layer.
HIS FINAL INVENTION• His final invention claimed only one victim. Sadly, he contracted polio in later life, and was bedridden. He invented a system of pulleys and lines, in order to assist him in changing his position in bed, and this worked well until the day when he unfortunately became entangled in the lines and suffered death by strangulation.
OCTANE RATING• The octane rating is a measure of the resistance of petrol and other fuels to pre- ignition.• The gasoline fraction from the oil refinery has a low octane number, too low for the good of the engine. This allows alcohol to be blended with it in quite large amounts instead of resorting to expensive antiknocking additives.
COMPRESSION RATIO• When the piston in an internal combustion rises from its lowest position in the cylinder to its highest position, it compresses the petrol/air mixture. The largest volume of the cylinder (piston at the bottom) divided by the smallest volume of the cylinder (piston at the top) gives the compression ratio
BACK TO ALCOHOLFor most cars, the compression ratio isaround 10:1, but some racing engineshave a compression ratio greater than15:1. These engines have to run onalcohol.
1826 and all thatSo we have come full cicle back to 1826;the last occasion when alcohol was thefuel of choice!