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A short history of biofuels


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A short history of biofuels. For more information see

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A short history of biofuels

  1. 1. An outline history of biofuels Bill Kovarik, PhD Prof of Communication, Radford U. All rights reserved © 2010 bill.kovarik @ Look for: The Source: A history of sustainable energy, in 2011 Cover illustration 1902 Congress on alcohol fuels, Paris
  2. 2. Presented at: Food and Fuel conference, University of Missouri, Oct. 12, 2010 World Café, Concordia University, Montreal Nov. 21, 2010
  3. 3. Four stages of the History of biofuels <ul><ul><li>1820s – 1906 Lamp fuels / ethanol disadvantaged by tax; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>oil industry begins with a subsidy. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1906 – 1940s Auto fuels / higher compression engines, new markets for farm surplus, biggest source of synthetic rubber for WWII </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1970s – 1980s Oil embargo , national security; Octane: ethanol replaces leaded gasoline, then BTX; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clean Air Act 1992 = ethanol + MTBE </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1990s – 2010s Carbon footprint, biodiversity, food or fuel concerns recognized; EC tariff standards June 2010. US ethanol, solar, wind, to expire at years end. </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><ul><li>Stage 1: Lamp fuels </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1830s – 1906 </li></ul></ul>Camphene /alcohol -- 50 cents 150 million gals/yr 1860 Whale oil -- $1.30 -$2.50 18 million gals / yr 1845 peak Kerosene -- 60 cents 200 million gals/yr by 1870.
  5. 5. The myth: When whales were almost extinct, the free market found petroleum. There was no need for government intervention . In fact: Alcohol-turpentine lamp fuel use was at 90 to 200 million gallons per year; whale oil never topped 18 million gallons per year. The US government imposed an alcohol tax of $2.20 per gallon in 1862, but only taxed kerosene at 10 cents per gallon. Tax policy created the oil industry, not the free market. See:
  6. 6. “ The Standard Oil Company has, largely by unfair or unlawful methods, crushed out home competition. … It is highly desirable that an element of competition should be introduced by … putting alcohol … upon the [tax] free list.” Teddy Roosevelt May 5, 1906 Washington Post p. 1 1906 – Alcohol tax repealed
  7. 7. Second stage: Anti knock fuel for autos Gasoline base 55 octane Lead or ethanol (TEL) 2000s 7.5 :1 engine compression Gasoline base 84 octane 1921 6 :1 engine compression Benzene, MTBE, ethanol
  8. 8. Alexander Graham Bell &quot;Alcohol makes a beautiful, clean and efficient fuel… Alcohol can be manufactured from corn stalks, and in fact from almost any vegetable matter capable of fermentation… We need never fear the exhaustion of our present fuel supplies so long as we can produce an annual crop of alcohol to any extent desired. -- Feb. 1917 Source: National Geographic,
  9. 9. “ Alcohol will inevitably play a part of steadily increasing importance in our economic life…” 1920
  10. 10. Cellulose to Ethanol -- 1921 “ This country will be dependent entirely upon outside sources for a supply of liquid fuels... paying out vast sums yearly in order to obtain supplies of crude oil from Mexico, Russia and Persia.” Chemists could solve the problem by making fuel from cellulosic materials like seaweed, sawdust, corn stalks and wheat straw. Yale Prof. Harold Hibbert ACS Cellulose Division founder 1921, SAE Journal Paper mill, Maine,1916, Edwin Slosson Creative Chemistry
  11. 11. “ &quot;The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumac out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust -- almost anything … There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years.&quot; …” Sept 20, 1925 New York Times Henry Ford
  12. 12. Charles Kettering GM research v.p. 1919-1947 Researched anti-knock effect of many fuel blends, including ethanol, benzene and, eventually, tetra-ethyl lead (leaded gasoline).
  13. 13. 1923 - 25 - Leaded gasoline introduced by GM, Standard Oil and DuPont, forming corporation called “Ethyl” 1923 - 25 DuPont NJ plant -- 11 die from severe industrial lead poisoning April 1924 -- GM Dayton labs 2 killed Oct. 1924 -- Standard Oil NY refinery 6 killed, 50 or more disabled May 1925 -- Public Health Service hearings in Washington DC Jan. 1925 -- Half baked report provides Ethyl with a “clean bill of health.” The Ethyl Disaster
  14. 14. “ Try a tank full -- You’ll be thankful” • Backed by Ford in 1937 • Over 2,000 stations in Midwest • Fought by oil industry • Bankrupt by 1939 • Unanticipated bonus for war preparedness US ethanol blending 1930s
  15. 17. WW I I and synthetic rubber • Natural rubber from SE Asia cut off • US faced crippling shortages • Truman investigation finds Standard had a secret “marriage” with I.G. Farben • Ethanol was an alternative way to make synthetic rubber • By D-Day, 3/4 of US rubber was from ethanol not petroleum
  16. 18. 1971 -- Nebraska Ag products utilization committee formed (Gasohol Commission) 1973 -- Gas lines - prices up 1974 -- Tom Reed (MIT), Leo Spano (DoD) testimony – Cellulose = fuel of future 1979 -- More gas lines 3rd stage: Oil embargoes
  17. 19. 1974 -- MIT Prof. Thomas B. Reed (left) gives MIT administrators his research grant money. Exxon demanded that the project be cancelled if other grants were to continue. MIT caved.
  18. 20. 1978 - tax credit $0.54 / gal. (1998 reduced to.51; 2005 to .47)
  19. 21. oil industry reaction US 1980s France 1930s
  20. 22. Farmers Reactions 1980s
  21. 23. Farmers Reaction (2005)
  22. 24. Energy balance / carbon footprint EBAMM / UC Berkeley
  23. 25. Food or fuel debate <ul><li>1/3 starch -> ethanol </li></ul><ul><li>1/3 CO2 </li></ul><ul><li>1/3 remaining protein, fiber, corn oil and nutrients </li></ul>Widely recognized in 1978 that no protein is lost in the process. But international food/fuel infrastructure trade-offs were (and remain) a big concern…
  24. 26. In 2007, UN special rapporteur for food security Jean Ziegler said biofuels is a “crime against humanity.” <ul><li>The UN Food and Agriculture Organization disagreed, saying there were opportunities for international development as well as risks. </li></ul><ul><li>Special issue for press; One of Pulitzer’s principles was to never lack sympathy with the poor. </li></ul>
  25. 28. Non-food biofuels •  Pasteur Institute obtained 10 gallons of ethanol per ton of seaweed in 1918 • Farm Journal editor Wheeler McMillan predicted we would eventually turn to ocean energy Miscanthus, Jatropha, many others
  26. 29. Conclusions • Fuel of the future 100 years: Octane boosters from grain, oil replacement from cellulose ethanol. • Leaded gasoline and benzene were replaced by MTBE and ethanol, creating today’s industry. Old technology solved a 1970s environmental problem. • Climate change and biodiversity: recent policy goals • EC: carbon footprint and biodiversity issues can be managed through certification and standards; • US: cutting ethanol, solar, wind tax incentives in 2010 gives no leverage for managing standards like EC. • Media should get beyond swinging pendulum and cover deeper issues in science and environment.
  27. 30. Thank you