Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Great Scheme: Alcohol-based fuels, Ford, Rockefeller, and Prohibition.

One of the many bits of information I gleaned from my discussions with Tapahpunja yesterday has to do with the prohibition of alcohol. This is a multifaceted issue that concerns spirituality, social control, energy production, and US History. From the standpoint of a Hindu, alcohol consumption is forbidden. This makes sense in the context of social interaction. There is no debate that alcohol abuse contributes to many of our social problems today. Having had ample experience with alcoholics, I know firsthand what addiction can do to relationships. Many domestic incidents and other types of criminal activity involve the use of alcohol. Meanwhile, there is much evidence that alcohol negatively affects more organs of the human body than any other legal or illegal drug. Despite all these possible consequences, I have no plans to stop consuming alcohol. I believe there are some positive social effects that occur with its moderate use, and there is some scientific data that demonstrates that it can be consumed healthily.

But there is an entirely different dimension to alcohol that I wasn't even aware of. Alcohol may be an option in dealing with the impending energy and environmental crises of the Twenty-first Century. It is a little known fact that Brazil is the world leader in the production of bioalcohol fuel. Because of recent concerns of rising gasoline prices, President Bush visited Sao Paulo (on March 7, 2007) to sign agreements on importing alcohol fuel and its technology. Vehicles using this fuel were actually widespread in the late 1970's in Brazil, but gasoline reclaimed its market share in the 1980's. With anxieties about the world oil supply once again in the forefront of many minds, this option has become increasingly attractive.

The advantages of alcohol-based fuels are multi-faceted. They burn completely and efficiently and produce 100% less carbon monoxide emissions because the byproducts of their consumption include only carbon dioxide, water and heat. Interestingly, although alcohol-based fuel produces as much CO2 emission as gasoline, its effect is counterbalanced by the fact that CO2 is actually drawn from the environment in the process of its production. Therefore there is no modern net release. While much of the efforts concerning the manufacture of these types of fuel involve corn... there are much more efficient raw crop materials available. Sugar beets (for example) contain less cellulose, and their waste fibers raise the alcohol yield. So why do so many Americans sing the praises of corn-based biofuel? For that answer you have to research the political and economic ramifications of our corporate farming monoculture. That lies beyond the scope of this post.

But the most fascinating aspect of the connection between alcohol and fuel use concerns a little known (or discussed) aspect of American history. To understand this relationship, one must examine some contextual information of the early Twentieth Century. Most people are not aware that Henry Ford's Model T came in a variation that allowed the driver to switch the carburetor to run the engine on farm-made ethyl acohol. This allowed the operator to stop at local farms (equipped with stills) to refuel his/her car during long trips through the backcountry. After all- the gas station wasn't exactly as ubiquitous in those days, as it is now. The Standard Oil Company and its industrialist-founder John D. Rockefeller wasn't too happy with this arrangement. After all, Rockefeller's company had a virtual monoploly on gasoline at this time in our nation's development.

It should be evident to any serious student of history that John D. Rockefeller was no political progressive. His fights with muckraker Ida Tarbell are legendary. She was ultimately responsible for the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust in 1911. Not that this actually hurt Rockefeller- his wealth actually increased after Standard Oil broke up. Rockefeller held significant interests in the resulting companies, which included the precursors of today's Seven Sisters oil companies. The break-up of Standard Oil actually made him the wealthiest man in the world, as the share values of most of these companies doubled. Yet Rockefeller would find benefit once again within the reform movement that he considered his enemy. Since the late 1800's there had been a growing Alcohol Temperance Movement developing among reformers. Rockefeller saw an opportunity in this. It is well-documented that local efforts to curb alcohol consumption were expanded to the national level when high-profile figures like Rockefeller joined in the anti-alcohol efforts. Was he so concerned with the social problems that abuse of alcohol was said to cause?

No... John D. Rockefeller was not concerned with family dynamics in the working classes. But he was influential in changing the goals of the movement from temperance to prohibition. As we know, his contribution to the outlawing of the production and sale of alcohol was successful. Of course, Rockefeller and the oil companies reaped tremendous profits as a result. Remember that the period covered by the 18th Amendment (1919-1933) coincided with the huge rise in the sale and operation of automobiles. America was on the move, and all of these cars were now operated solely on gasoline. By the time that the 21st Amendment was passed, ending the prohibition of alcohol, the standard was already set and worked completely in the favor of the Rockefeller family.

These events have had a tremendous development on the American economy, foreign policy direction, and the environment. In fact the consequences are worldwide. It is easy to lose sight of the big picture, and concentrate on the many subplots involving Detroit's supression of alternative fuel technologies. The chapters being written in today's tumultuous climate are indeed the continuation of a story started long ago. We venerate the capitalist captains of industry (like Rockefeller) without any examination of what they have cost the nation and the world. If we don't re-evaluate our contemporary thinking in light of the events of the past, we are headed for times in which alcohol may be our only escape from a harsh reality. Maybe we have been pouring it in the wrong place all along.

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27 Comments:

Blogger john a. bailo said...

It wasn't just the Model-T -- before that the majority of cars ran on alcohol. Remember, the US used to be 90% farm based. Every farm had a "still" and early cars all ran on alcohol.

Yes, the only real reason for Prohibition was to end local production of energy...it's an old tale in American history...

2:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alcohol is hydroscopic and attracts water when more than 100 proof (50%). Also Methyl and Ethyl alcohol are different so the word alcohol should be proceded them to clarify with is being refered to.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Hmmm... you don't say.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Methyl alcohol, also known as methanol or "wood alcohol", is highly toxic (causes blindness, if not death), and is not produced by fermentation. Methanol is methane (CH4), augmented with an oxygen atom.

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is almost always what is meant by "alcohol". It's ethane (C2H6), with an oxygen atom. Hence, gasoline with a little alcohol (to reduce pollution) is "oxygenated".

Isopropyl alcohol ("rubbing alcohol", isopropanol) is propane (C3H8) plus oxygen. It's toxic, too.

There are many other alcohols known to chemists.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

OK... but translate that for us laymen... what significance does that have for this issue.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Sven said...

good Job! :)

2:23 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

sven,

Thanks a lot for reading this and letting me know about it!

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ethyl alcohol actually is far less efficient than gasoline and gives your car worse gas mileage meaning you have to burn more of it to get somewhere (This is why you get worse gas mileage filling up in a city that has ethanol mixed with the regular fuel). And the pollution caused by harvesting the corn and making it into ethanol causes large amounts of carbon emissions...so yes, politics are always involved but there are scientific reasons we haven't switched over as well.

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rockefeller thought getting rid of alcohol would increase worker productivity. Later he decided any productivity increase was not worth it.
http://www.prohibitionrepeal.com/history/people.asp

3:42 AM  
Blogger Term Papers said...

This is such a great news, it really helps

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9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is NOT OK to make things up:

>>From the standpoint of a Hindu, >>alcohol consumption is forbidden.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Essays said...

I appreciated about your above mentioned details, as far as my opinion concerned I use to preferred working without using much technology, why because if we become habituated with the machines then think if machine’s gone in the future how we will be? So my opinion is to depend on our god gifted brain and all Organ’s of a human body instead of robots and machines.

1:27 AM  
Anonymous Essays said...

The Alcohol-based fuels, Ford, Rockefeller, and Prohibition are some thing which is not good thing and I think these thing must needs to get stopped, such information is really nice because it is for the peoples good.

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Custom Home Detailing said...

This is a very educational post on alcohol based fuels. Very good work you can tell you work on this. Good job.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Uncle Geoff said...

Came across this after a being at a talk by Josh Tickell. For the purpose of this discussion, alcohol is alcohol from fermentation. It does not have to be "clean" to burn, just to drink.

4:30 AM  
Anonymous Online Logo Design said...

This stuff is really amazing! I had a great fun. Keep posting more useful post like this.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Diesel engine was set to replace the Steam Engine and Combustion Engines because Carnot cycle design was much more efficient. It ran on peanut oil and needed alcohol to do that. It was the diesil motor Standard Oil wanted to get out of their way and they did. Look it up, Rudolf Diesel was ruined by prohibition and then Standard Oil invented Diesil Fuel.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you studied Hemp? The same story applies. Petro-Chemicals replaced Hemp I'm many of the products commonly used in industry.
Yet it remains illegal.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Methanol is higher octane than gasoline.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Methanol is higher octane than gasoline. And the question you should be asking is fuel economy, not miles per gallon anyway. You should be looking at mile/$.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Reticuli said...

Methanol is higher octane than gasoline. And the relevant figure is miles per dollar, not miles per gallon.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fuel grade alcohol can be produced much cheaper than gasoline using sugsr cane in the fermentation process. sugar eets also would work well. we are being told lie after lie to keep us from developing our own aility to produce our own fuel. that is the real issue. the oil companies will fight to the death to keep the public from making our own fuel. shell oil advertises that brazil is their partner in alchohol biofuel production while we have at least two ethanol plants sitting idle. one in ky and one in indiana. what is the political signifigance of that. thousands of jobs that do not exist now so our oil companies can buy alcohol from brazil.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The belief that ethanol causes higher fuel consumption is not accurate. Modern flex fuel automobiles are programmed unnecessarily to retard the ignition timing when running on ethanol fuels. This results in lost power and fuel efficiency. I was an automobile technician for four decades during which time I had a lot of experience with engine control module programming. Take my word for it the public is being mislead.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless... The root of most if not all challenges to humanity still comes down to: You can take the caveman out of the cave, but you can't take the cave out of the caveman .... Now where the heck did I put my club?.

6:30 PM  
Blogger David Frazier Johnson Jr said...

Prohibition banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages specifically, not ethanol. Many types of alcohol were still then and have always been used for industrial applications. Don't fall prey to fringe conspiracy theory, it makes all of us people pushing for renewable energy look stupid. Rockefeller supported prohibition because he believed it caused crime and affected the workplace. Even he admitted it was a failed attempt to curb this by the end.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The real issue is that big business and corporations dictate our lives and dont care how they get rich off of us working class Americans. The sad part of this is that our generation and culture is to believe all the lies and deceptions that are put in front of us as the truth. Start standing up to these aholes that want to destroy us!

5:50 AM  
Blogger Rachael Temple said...

Is there a documentary on this subject?

2:59 AM  

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