Ethanol History


The first authentic internal combustion engine in America, developed by Samuel Morey at the surprisingly early date of 1826, ran on alcohol and turpentine. The engine powered a small boat at eight miles per hour up the Connecticut River, but the invention never attracted investors.


Another early developer of the internal combustion engine was German inventor Nicolaus August Otto. In 1860, Otto used ethyl alcohol as a fuel in his four-stroke Otto Cycle engine because untaxed alcohol was widely available for spirit lamps throughout Europe.

The inventor we remember most though is Henry Ford. Turn of the century Americans saw Henry Ford design his Model T as a flexible-fuel vehicle to run on ethanol, gasoline, or any combination of the two fuels.

But as America’s ability to efficiently refine cheap and abundant crude oil into gasoline increased, ethanol use as a motor fuel waned. During World War II, U.S. wet mills provided ethanol for the Rubber Reserve Company formed by Standard Oil, B.F. Goodrich, Goodyear, Firestone and American Rubber at the behest of President Roosevelt. There was also a small amount of ethanol used in military vehicles during the war.

After the war, the primary markets for ethanol were industrial grade solvents and beverage alcohols, and gasoline remained the dominant motor fuel. In the 1960s, Brazil provided a major shift in the industry by adopting an energy policy mandating ethanol as a motor fuel. Brazil continues today as ONE OF the leading producer of ethanol for automobiles, HOWEVER THE UNITED STATES IS NOW THE WORLDS LARGEST PRODUCER OF ETHANOL AND LAST YEAR (2016) PRODUCED OVER 13 BILLION GALLONS AND EXPORTED 8% OF THAT TO CANADA AND BRAZIL.

The Arab oil embargo of 1973, resulted in Congress recognizing the need for a domestically produced renewable fuel like ethanol. Long gas lines, gasoline outages and price run-ups caused the public to panic compounding matters further, even though there was less than a 5% reduction in crude oil shipments to the United States.

President Jimmy Carter

In the early 1980s, at the request of President Jimmy Carter, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) converted its new beverage alcohol plant into a fuel alcohol facility. The fuel alcohol plant was part of a wet milling plant producing fructose. ADM processed corn into ethanol for several years before other wet mills added alcohol finishing capacity to produce enough fuel ethanol volume to give the burgeoning industry some degree of validity in the eyes of the petroleum industry.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 includes a nationwide renewable fuels standard (RFS) that will increase the use of ethanol and biodiesel to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. The RFS also requires that beginning in 2013, a minimum of 250 million gallons a year of cellulose derived ethanol be included in the RFS and provides grant and loan guarantee programs for ethanol from cellulose.

The Act allows the implementation of a credit trading system that provides refiners with flexibility in meeting their blending goals for biofuels.

Flex-fuel cars have more a presence today with manufacturers even touting their models once fairly obscure. In the past it was even difficult to identify a flex-fuel car; Daimler Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Isuzu, Mazda, Mercedes, Mercury and Nissan all now have popular models.

Another exciting development for the ethanol industry occurred this year when the IndyCar Series kicked off the use of 100% ethanol.

New Honda engines in the race cars will be running on 100% ethanol for the first time. From Ford’s Model-T to the IndyCar, the evolution of ethanol parallels with the automobile industry advancements. What will the future bring…