There are two people in America who were eminently important for the automobile industry. The first was Henry Ford, one of the most famous car-builders in the world and and there was Charles F. Kettering, one of the most famous constructors. Henry Ford (1863 - 1947) deserved the credit, of being the first one to introduce the mass production of cars. Although he wasn't born as a farmers son, he did grow up as a country boy and was characterised by the stubbornness which came from that, in the end, this somewhat negatively affected the company that he'd built up.
It's difficult to pin-point Kettering's (1876 - 1958) main research field, whatever may be, he is considered to be the father of the higher anti-knocking properties of fuel through the addition of of lead in the 1920s. The conflict lay in the fact that Kettering worked for Ford's only real competition, and that was General Motors. For his invention he favoured the fuel which was won from crude oil, Ford on the other hand, wanted to see the fuels made from farming products being sponsored.
There were reasons for this. Ford had very strong ties with the farming community. He himself, had a gigantic farm in Georgia and was constantly buying more land. He would most of all, have liked to have had his ideas about farming implemented in the entire USA. At this time, opposed to the production of fuels from agricultural products, which had a (natural) higher Octane rating, the further development of oil based fuels was aiming at higher octane ratings and thus, more power with a lower consumption. By the way, Kettering's invention was not directed against the use of bio-fuel, on the contrary, he did in fact, consider it be more suitable.
It is certain however, that Henry Ford also had the current crisis and poverty of the farmers in the back of his mind when he suggested the use of this 'new type' of fuel. Indeed, the problems surrounding a suitable fuel, were actually older. It's quite amazing, how concerned the Americans were, when motorising vehicles was just starting out, about where the fuel was coming from. Even at that time there were fears, of making themselves dependent on other (perhaps even politically unstable) countries. Obviously, those who seconded these considerations had always been around. They never really trusted large concerns either. Indeed, these were apparently necessary, to procure the mining-rights in foreign countries and to manage the exploration and logistics.
The opposition of course, stirred up the fears, that the farmers would become wealthy at the cost of the tax payers, or that their products would force the food prices to increase (sound familiar?) and that the poorer people would not be able to afford to buy groceries. Besides, what they were forgetting, was the contribution that horse-transporting also made, and the oats that they were eating, so they were also taking away the peoples food. In the end, they were powerless against the argument that basically, there was a never-ending supply of regenerative resources. As you can see, Ethanol was a subject, right from the beginning of the automobile-era. It's all about the amount of 'Bio' in petrol, which would make us more independent from fossil-energy. We've just touched on the political aspects, our main concern is the technology. Perhaps we can shed some light on the widespread misinformation discussed here.
As you can gather up to now, Ethanol in motor vehicle technology, sticks out like a sore thumb. Motor racing in the 1930s, with all the famous brand-names and the racing drivers, would be poorly described without reference to the alcohol-mixtures. Extra tanks and the fires they caused is basically, incorrect reporting. After all, Ethanol provides a good 30 Prozent less energy than petrol does and has a much higher knocking-resistance.
Should anyone tell you, that with more Ethanol in the tank you can save fuel, at first glance, this cannot be correct. Compared with E5, there would be 1.5 percent more Ethanol in the tank, which would first of all mean, a respectively higher consumption. However, under certain conditions, the engine management can, due to the slightly higher octane petrol, provide for a corresponding or even a somewhat higher lowest consumption.
Whether you'll notice it, one way or the other, is an open question. The danger of engine damage through knocking during the combustion is definitely no greater. DeNOX-catalytic convertors which have been later fitted, do indeed, seem to be vulnerable to Ethanol. VW does not allow, even one tank-full in it's earlier FSI-models. Other companies sometimes don't allow it, because they are not sure about their fuel-supply systems. This should not be the case with newer vehicles. 07/13