After decades of relying on petroleum for the bulk of our transportation needs, it may be easy to conclude that alternative energy solutions are new innovations recently invented as the world places more focus on clean air and conserving natural resources. However, that is not the case.
Henry Ford grew up on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan. Like many of his peers, Henry only attended the one-room schoolhouse when he wasn’t busy working on the farm. Cultivation of local crops was in his blood, and even though he moved to Detroit at age 16 for a machine shop apprenticeship, the vast fields of farmland never left his mind.
In 1896, Henry Ford invented his first vehicle, the Quadricycle. Truly resembling a horseless carriage, this buggy seat on top of 4 wheels was powered by an ethanol-powered engine.
Ford’s Model T introduced in 1908 featured a multi-fuel engine allowing the driver to select between using gasoline and ethanol. At the time, he expected ethanol produced from local crops would be a significant source of fuel. In 1918, a reporter asked Ford his thoughts on the rising costs of fuel. Ford replied, “I doubt whether gasoline will be the tractor fuel of the future. Kerosene is now being used…and in the future the fuel will probably be alcohol and it will be made on the farm.”
Later in 1925, Ford reinforced his position in an interview with New York Times:
“The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach 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.”
So what happened? Why didn’t Ford’s innovative ideas take hold on the future of automobiles?
A number of factors came into play that changed the direction of automobile engines from ethanol to gasoline:
- Gasoline engines were easier to operate with materials commonly available for engine construction in the early twentieth century.
- Oil was being discovered in plenty, and this abundance of petroleum on the market was less expensive than ethanol.
- Petroleum companies sought protection of their investments from the early days and lobbied the federal government to maintain expensive alcohol taxes that kept ethanol more expensive than gasoline.
Want to learn more interesting facts about alternative energy solutions?
Come visit us at www.roguevalleycleancities.org. Together, we can keep our communities clean for generations to come! The Rogue Valley Clean Cities’ mission is to promote and educate on alternate fuels, seek to decrease dependency on petroleum, and promote clean air and water in the Rogue Valley via alternate fuels. Contact us today for more information!