21 Juni 2004

Is it worth going to war over fuel, or is it time to change?

When automotive pioneer Henry Ford revolutionized the auto industry by installing production lines to produce enough cars for every American home, he did not mean to launch this country into wars over fossil fuels to run them.

And yet, that is the underlying reason for the world’s woes, the control of the Middle East oil by the oil producing countries that can bring the world’s only super power to its knees by controlling oil prices. Once again, we are paying through the nose, the same nose that is held by the rings that these oil producers have pierced us with.

Even when he was rolling his first Fords off the production lines, it was his vision that machines be fueled by products raised on our own Kansas fields.

It was Ford who said, “There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for one hundred years.

Born in 1863 in Wayne County, Michigan, Ford showed an early interest in mechanics, constructing his first steam engine at the age of 15. In 1893 he built his first internal combustion engine, a small one-cylinder gasoline model, and in 1896 he built his first automobile.

In June 1903, Ford helped establish Ford Motor Company. He served as president of the company from 1906 to 1919 and from 1943 to 1945.

When Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was “the fuel of the future” in 1925, he was expressing an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry.

“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,” he said. “There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented.”

Don’t Try This At Home: Henry Ford takes an ax to a 1941 Ford automobile to demonstate the sturdiness of soy-bean based materials. Ford was ahead of his time in testing out natural fibers for car parts.

From the collections of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.

Ford recognized the utility of the hemp plant. He constructed a car of resin stiffened hemp fiber, and even ran the car on ethanol made from hemp. Ford knew that hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated. The production of hemp would provide a badly needed economic boom to our Kansas and Missouri farmers.

In 1925 the American farms that Ford loved were facing an economic crisis that would later intensify with the depression. Although the causes of the crisis were complex, one possible solution was seen in creating new markets for farm products. With Ford’s financial and political backing, the idea of opening up industrial markets for farmers would be translated into a broad movement for scientific research in agriculture.

Ethanol has been known as a fuel for many decades. Indeed, when Henry Ford designed the Model T, it was his expectation that ethanol, made from renewable biological materials would be a major automobile fuel. However, gasoline emerged as the dominant transportation fuel in the early twentieth century because of the ease of operation of gasoline engines with the materials then available for engine construction, a growing supply of cheaper petroleum from oil field discoveries, and intense lobbying by petroleum companies for the federal government to maintain steep alcohol taxes.

In short, that’s when the oil producers began pulling America’s puppet strings.

Many bills proposing a National energy program that made use of Americas vast agricultural resources (for fuel production) were killed by smear campaigns launched by vested petroleum interests. One noteworthy claim put forth by petrol companies was that the U.S. government’s plans “robbed taxpayers to make farmers rich.”

When did farmers become the bad guys?

Gasoline had many disadvantages as an automotive resource. The “new” fuel had a lower octane rating than ethanol, was much more toxic (particularly when blended with tetra-ethyl lead and other compounds to enhance octane), generally more dangerous, and contained threatening air pollutants. Petroleum was more likely to explode and burn accidentally, gum would form on storage surfaces and carbon deposits would form in combustion chambers of engines. Pipelines were needed for distribution from “area found” to “area needed.” Petroleum was much more physically and chemically diverse than ethanol, necessitating complex refining procedures to ensure the manufacture of a consistent “gasoline” product.

However, despite these environmental flaws, fuels made from petroleum have dominated automobile transportation for the past three-quarters of a century.

There are two key reasons: First, cost per kilometer of travel has been virtually the sole selection criteria. Second, the large investments made by the oil and auto industries in physical capital, human skills and technology make the entry of a new cost-competitive industry difficult.

Until very recently, environmental concerns have been largely ignored. All of that is finally changing as consumers demand fuels such as ethanol, which are much better for the environment and human health.

In the 1930s the Ford Motor Company also saw a future in biomass fuels. Ford operated a successful biomass conversion plant that included hemp, at their Iron Mountain facility in Michigan. Ford engineers extracted methanol, charcoal fuel, tar, pitch, ethyl-acetate and creosote. All fundamental ingredients for modern industry and now supplied by oil-related industries.

The difference is that the vegetable source is renewable, cheap and clean, and the petroleum or coal sources are limited, expensive and dirty. By volume, 30 percent of the hemp seed contains oil suitable for high-grade diesel fuel as well as aircraft engine and precision machine oil.

Henry Ford’s experiments with methanol promised cheap, readily renewable fuel. And if you think methanol means compromise, you should know that many modern race cars run on methanol.

So we wonder, why are we in Iraq, fighting forces that use the funds that we have paid for fuel to buy weapons to kill our youth? Petroleum is the weapon of choice of those Mideast countries who hate us. If we stopped buying their product, we could send them back to their tribal days.

Isn’t it time to listen to Henry Ford?

Source: Global Hemp-News vom 2004-06-17.

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