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Addendum. Alcohol As Motor Fuel

An inter-departmental Committee was appointed in October, 1918, to consider questions relating to the supply of alcohol, its manufacture, cost, method of denaturing, and suitability for use in internal-combustion engines.1 The report of this Committee appeared whilst the present volume was in the final stages of printing. Some of the chief conclusions are indicated hereunder.


The Committee consider that action should be taken to ensure close investigation of the questions of production and utilisation, in all their branches, of alcohol for power and traction purposes.

A large-scale practical trial, extending over a period of about 26 weeks, of alcohol - benzol and alcohol - benzol - petrol mixtures in a complete fleet of London motor-omnibuses, running under daily service conditions, was arranged for by the Committee. An experimental research for the purpose of obtaining accurate data as to the combustion of various mixtures was also instituted. Neither of these investigations, however, had been completed when the report was published.

As regards supply, there are within the British Empire vast existing and prospective sources of alcohol from vegetable products. For example, evidence was received concerning production, costs, and yield of "power alcohol " from the flowers of the Mahua tree (Bassia latifolia), which flourishes in the Deccan and the Central Provinces of India. The sun-dried flowers of this tree contain 60 per cent. of fermentable sugars, and yield, per ton, about 90 gallons of 95 per cent. alcohol. They can be pressed, packed, exported, and stored for long periods without deterioration.

The prospective production of alcohol from maize and other cereals in the overseas Dominions and other parts of the Empire is considered to be "encouraging, both as regards quantities and cost."

1 Report Cmd. 218; 1919.

No satisfactory method for utilising peat as an economic source of " power alcohol" was brought to the notice of the Committee, but the potential value of peat as a raw material for the purpose should not be overlooked.

In the United Kingdom the production of power alcohol on a commercial basis from such articles as potatoes, artichokes, sugar beet, and mangolds does not appear practicable except under some system of State subvention. So far as vegetable sources of raw material are concerned, the conclusion is that we must rely mainly or entirely on increased production in tropical and sub-tropical countries.

Synthetic production in considerable quantities, however, especially from coal and coke-oven gases, is regarded as promising. The evidence as to the synthetic conversion of ethylene into alcohol indicates that this gas is a large potential source of power alcohol in Great Britain; but further investigations are necessary before definite figures as to quantities and price can be given.

The Committee suggest that the cost of denaturing power alcohol might be diminished by lowering the proportion of wood-naphtha at present employed, the difference being made up, wholly or partially, by petrol, benzol, or other nauseous substance. Improved facilities for importation and distribution of power alcohol are also recommended.

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