Some of you may remember that, in the 1950s, gasoline sold for as little as 19 cents a gallon. Corn at the time was around $3.00 a bushel.

Today gasoline hovers around $2.50 a gallon (plus or minus depending on the local tax). Corn is still around $3.00 a bushel.

What is the correlation?

Corn can be processed to yield 2½ gallons of alcohol per bushel. Alcohol can be used in place of gasoline—pure alcohol, not "gasohol." The remainder of the bushel yields 18 pounds of distiller’s dried grains—a high-quality cattle feed. The balance of the bushel consists of carbon dioxide, which can be converted to dry ice, foam for fire extinguishers, and the like.

Alcohol has two drawbacks other than cost.

First, alcohol will not start in a standard compression gasoline engine under 20° F.

There are subzero temperatures that neither gasoline nor diesel fuel will ignite at, either. This problem is cured with what is called a "block heater," a device that plugs into a wall socket and keeps the fluid in the engine water jacket warm, making the engine "think" it's summer.

Second, the energy in a gallon of alcohol is only two-thirds of that contained in a gallon of gasoline. The reason for this is that alcohol, by weight, is one third oxidized (already burned) oxygen. For example, it takes 3 gallons of alcohol to equal the energy of 2 gallons of gasoline and 1 gallon of water (which has no energy).

In practical terms, a vehicle that gets 15 mpg on gasoline will go only 10 mpg on alcohol. If you raise the compression, you increase the mileage. For example, if you double the compression, you increase the mileage fifty per cent (50%).

For example, if you raised a 10-mpg alcohol-fueled vehicle from 8 to 1 compression to 16 to 1 compression, your mileage would increase to 15 mpg. However, you can’t raise alcohol compression to 16 to 1. 14 to 1 is the maximum. I.e., 3.75 is the increase you will achieve with 14 to 1 compression, or 13.75 mpg.

Now let’s compare our 15 mpg gas engine with our 13.75 mpg alcohol engine when gasoline is $3.00 a gallon. Let’s take a fuel tank that holds 25 gallons.

Your gasoline tank fill-up will cost $75.00 and take you 375 miles down the road.

Your alcohol tank, in price of raw materials will cost you $30.00 (corn at $3.00 a bushel) and take you 343.75 miles down the road (assuming 14 to 1 compression). Notice that the cost of the gasoline is 2½ times that of corn to go less than 10% further.

We are, of course, not counting the cost of processing the corn nor are we counting the value of the by-products. In short, $3.00 a gallon gasoline simply cannot compete with $3.00 a bushel corn. When gasoline goes to $3.00 a gallon and stays there, the value of a bushel of corn exceeds $6.00. That is, provided the farmers are there to provide it. We’ve lost over 75% of them in the last thirty years.

Don’t look for the large multinational corporations to do this. Too many of them are vulnerable to hostile takeovers and do not have the equipment to convert enough facilities in time. It would take tens of thousands of small farmers using 55-gallon drums and parts from the local plumbing store starting up overnight.

There are, of course, other solutions, such as hydrogen from water and the like. Or are there?

Have you noticed that none of these "hydrogen from water extracted by solar cells or wind generation" characters ever have a working model? It’s just talk. You can’t run a vehicle on hot air.

A few paragraphs on hydrogen from an American Free Press article bear repeating.

If you're extracting hydrogen from water, is that water is only eleven percent by weight hydrogen. Eighty-nine percent of your effort is going to be producing oxygen, not hydrogen.

The fourth problem is that hydrogen has to be dried. Whatever moisture (water) is left in what you think is hydrogen gas is going to absorb energy from combustion. To dry it you use sodium hydroxide, or NaOH. Watch how people dress who work with NaOH. The stuff is so caustic they have to wear protective gear that looks like a space suit.

Those are only the production problem with hydrogen production. Driving it causes more problems.

The first driving problem is that combustible hydrogen gas, or H2, is the smallest molecule in the universe. It leaks. It leaks past piston rings, intake and exhaust valves, out the crankcase of your engine, from fuel lines, you name it.

The second driving problem is that hydrogen has a much lower BTU content than either ethanol or gasoline. Gasoline has approximately 120,000 BTUs per gallon, ethanol 80,000. A gallon of hydrogen has 30,000 BTUs.

The photos with this article demonstrate a working model of a dual-fuel unit we installed in a 1975 Chevy Suburban. We could convert from gasoline to alcohol in two seconds from controls on the dashboard. We built this unit in 1979.

Note the photo taken in 1979 with a Briggs & Stratton engine on a dynamometer at Berea College. You can create your own working model with one of these engines.

Simply get it running on gasoline. Empty the fuel tank of gas. Pour in a pint of 190 proof Everclear from the local liquor store. Turn the needle valve of the carburetor out 2½ turns. Fire it up. Smell the exhaust. It’s running on alcohol. If the needle valve drips fuel, you have it too far out. If it won’t run, you have it too far in.

The last photo is of a Japanese Zero at the EAA flying at Oshkosh, Wisconsin taken in July 1979. When our Marines captured the Japanese airfield at Guadalcanal during World War II, they found drums marked, in Japanese, "Aviation Fuel."

It was ethyl alcohol made from rice, the reason the Zero could outrun, out climb, and outmaneuver anything we had at the beginning of World War II.

As of this writing, there are tens of thousands of cars in Brazil referred to as "flex" models, set up to run on almost any combination of ethyl alcohol made from sugar cane. In the cities, such as Sao Paulo, where they once had a smog problem caused by gasoline usage, the skies are now clear.


Briggs & Stratton carburetor at Berea College

Dual Fuel Unit in 1975 Chevy Suburban runs on gasoline and alcohol

View 1   View 2   View 3   View 4   View 5

Dashboard view showing control on the dashboard

Japanese Zero: Fueled on Alcohol

Mike Brown Steam Engines

Index to Mike Brown's Alternative Energy


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This page was updated on 5 November 2011