For many of us, the term “greenhouse effect” is a relatively new one. And ethanol as a fuel source – a new concept? Using alcohol (ethanol) as a source of renewable energy was on Alexander Graham Bell’s mind over a hundred years ago. He truly was a visionary – far ahead of his time.
The industrial revolution that started in 18th century England led to a huge increase in energy requirements and an alarming rate of depletion of fossil fuel sources such as coal and oil.
Alexander was one of the first advocates of renewable energy as a solution to dwindling coal and oil resources. Following his invention of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell started to take a keen interest in the greenhouse effect.
“Alexander Graham Bell was amongst the first to understand that increasing use of fossil fuels would harm the environment, and that the day was not far away when the sources of such non-renewable forms of energy would dry up. He coined the term “greenhouse effect” to explain the phenomenon of the world becoming warmer due to the burning of fossil fuels.” — Bright Hub
By 1914, Alexander had started exploring various renewable energy sources as possible alternative fuel options. He considered the available alternatives of water power, wood, and direct harnessing of the sun’s rays, but soon identified alcohol or ethanol as the best fossil fuel substitute able to meet the demands of the future.
In his article in the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 31 of February 1917, Alexander Graham Bell suggests alcohol as a “clean, beautiful, and efficient fuel,” which “if not intended for consumption by human beings, can be manufactured very cheaply.”
Alexander Graham Bell advocated the manufacture of alcohol mainly from corn stalks, and from any vegetable matter capable of fermentation, such as growing crops, weeds, waste products or farm stubble, and even garbage from cities.
The big advantages alcohol presented were: it was clean burning, without any harmful emissions, and offered the possibility of a guaranteed continuous supply. Ethanol as a motor fuel also provided the advantage of not “knocking” under high-compression, allowing for engines of high horsepower. Ethanol, however, required high-compression engines to compress the mixture of fuel and air in the cylinder more forcefully.
The further advancement of technology after the Second Word War, led to even greater burning of fossil fuels, resulting in the dramatic rise in carbon dioxide emissions of recent years, threatening unprecedented changes in global climate and natural ecosystems.
Today gasoline mixed with ethanol finds widespread application. A blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, for instance, powers flex-fuel vehicles and research on ethanol is still ongoing.