Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and the History of Biofuels

Hey Renewable Energy World blog readers,

After several months of travel and research, I’ve finally started writing my book about renewable energy.  At the moment I’m working on a chapter about biofuels, and the results have been very interesting. For example, I assumed that biofuels research and manufacturing got started during the energy crises of the 1970s.  But I was surprised to learn that interest in biofuels goes back more than a century, to the earliest days of the internal combustion engine.  Did you know that Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell were early supporters of alcohol motor fuel (what we call ethanol)?  

Anyhow, as I work on the chapter I thought it would be interesting to post a sample here to get some feedback. Let me know what you think!

Chapter Excerpt:

In the winter of 1917, as American troops sailed for Europe to join the bloodiest war in recorded history, automobile magnate Henry Ford steered a specially built Model T through the humid backwoods roads of rural Florida, on the lookout for sugar plantations and farmland suitable for growing crops that could be turned into motor fuel.  As much as anyone in America, Ford had been responsible for ushering in a modern, fast-paced, motorized era increasingly dependent on gasoline and oil.  But, an agrarian at heart, he disdained the profit-driven oil barons and wildcatters whose motor fuel business both enabled and depended on the stratospheric growth of the automobile industry.  To Ford’s mind, the oilmen were unprincipled speculators whose obsession with the quick strike did little to benefit the towns and farming communities that opened their land to drilling. Plus, Ford believed—presciently, it turned out—that gasoline exhaust fumes polluted the air.  To be forced to rely on such unwholesome fuel rankled, and the carmaker was intent on finding alternatives for his wildly popular Model T.  Like many others in the quickly maturing automobile business, Ford was intrigued by the prospects of alcohol.  It not only burned cleaner than gasoline but was also a renewable resource, being derived from grains and other annual crops.  

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I'm a writer based in Bloomington, IN. I'm currently writing a book about renewable energy, titled "Renewable: A Reporter's Quest to Make Sense of the Coming Revolution in Alternative Energy," for St. Martin's Press.

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