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"ALCOHOL I.525). - Alcohol intended for potable purposes has always been subject to a heavy duty in all countries. In the United Kingdom the duty on alcohol was raised in 1920 from 30s. to 72s. 6d. a proof gallon. Owing to its prohibitive price, duty-paid alcohol cannot be used for the many purposes for which it is essential, quite apart from the production of light, heat and power. Its earliest employment in industry was as an illuminant, and dates back to the early part of the 19th century.
In 1853 exhaustive experiments were carried out in England with a view to ascertaining whether it would be possible so to treat alcohol as to allow it to be used industrially without, at the same time, any risk of the revenue being defrauded. These experiments resulted in the legislation of 1855, when the use of duty-free alcohol mixed with 10% by volume of wood naphtha, known as methylated spirits, was authorized for manufacturing purposes only. From 1861-91 methylated spirits prepared in this way were allowed to be sold by retail in Great Britain in small quantities for domestic purposes such as cleaning, heating and lighting; but use in large quantities, or in manufacture, was only possible under special authority and under excise supervision. The Netherlands legalized the use of denatured alcohol in 1865; in 1872 France permitted its use under a special tax, and in Germany its employment was authorized in 1879, the other European countries following, Austria in 1888, Italy in 1889, Sweden in 1890, Norway in 1891, Switzerland in 1893, and Belgium in 1896. In the United States the tax on distilled spirits was repealed in 1817, but was reimposed at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, and it was not until 1907 that denatured alcohol became tax-free for general purposes. Alcohol was used in Germany for many years before the World War in increasing quantities as a source of heat, but its application for light and power started about 1887. In 1895, in order to bring down its price, a distillation tax was imposed, from which a refund was paid on alcohol used for other than beverage purposes. About this date the output of alcohol in Germany and its use in stationary internal-combustion engines increased rapidly. The chief source was the bounty-fed potato, and the industry was an agricultural one worked on cooperative principles.
The first competition in connexion with alcohol as a fuel for motor vehicles took place in France in 1901, followed in the next year by German investigations, but its employment for this purpose did not make much headway. The subject received little attention in the United Kingdom, owing to the relatively high cost of home-produced alcohol as compared with that of imported petrol; and the use of alcohol in England for generating mechanical power was neither contemplated nor provided for by the Legislature before 1920, when, as the result of the consideration of the position by the Government, following on a report by a Departmental Committee appointed towards the end of 1918, clauses were inserted in the Finance Act of 1920 legalizing the use of alcohol for power purposes.
Whilst alcohol is applied in motor engines in a similar manner to petrol, its vapour mixed with a proper proportion of air being drawn into the cylinder where it is compressed and ignited, it cannot be used with maximum efficiency by itself in engines such as are fitted to modern motors because it requires a higher degree of compression than petrol engines are usually designed to stand, and also because, unless special arrangements are made, a motor engine will not start readily from the cold with alcohol alone. For these reasons alcohol has not been used to any extent in petrol motors. Mixing with benzol and/or petrol, or with ether in varying proportions, enables it, however, to be employed successfully in them, until such time as engines specially designed for its use are available. In the event of its production being a commercial possibility it should, therefore, form a valuable addition to the liquid-fuel resources of the world (see Fuel) .
In the appended table are given some comparative figures in connexion with commercial petrols and alcohol, taken from H. R. Ricardo's paper on" The Influence of Various Fuels on the Performance of Internal-Combustion Engines,"published in 1921.
Alcohol and Petrol as Fuel.
Alcohol is produced by fermentation from vegetable substances containing starch or sugar, from fermentable sugars produced by the hydrolysis of cellulosic bodies, and synthetically from calcium carbide and from the ethylene contained in coal and coke-oven gases. These vegetable substances may be divided into foodstuffs and nonfoodstuffs. If foodstuffs are to be employed it must be possible to grow them in excess of food requirements, and at a cost low enough to ensure that the price of the alcohol shall be about the same as that 1 The lower calorific value plus the latent heat of evaporation at constant volume.
of other liquid fuels. Foodstuffs could not be grown in the United Kingdom at sufficiently low prices, nor in sufficient quantities, to produce alcohol commercially and on a large scale.
Investigations started in 1920 by the British Government, in connexion with the production of alcohol for power purposes, have shown, however, that there are large areas of suitable land in the British Empire where the cost of production would be comparatively low, and where it might be possible to grow vegetable substances in excess of food requirements, and in sufficient quantities to produce alcohol for local consumption to replace expensive petrol. It is in this direction, which is being actively followed up in the dominions and colonies, that the production of alcohol for use in internal-combustion engines is most likely to advance so far as the British Empire is concerned.
The use of non-foodstuffs, or cellulosic materials, such as grasses, reeds, straws, peat, waste wood, sawdust, etc., is not yet possible, for, although research work is in progress to discover a process that could be worked on a commercial basis in those regions where such materials exist in sufficient abundance, it has not so far led to any definite results. It would appear, however, that the production of power alcohol within the British Empire from waste materials, which can be collected and treated at low cost, offers the best chance of the solution of the problem of the supply to the United Kingdom of an alternative liquid fuel for internal-combustion engines.
Its manufacture from carbide is only possible where very cheap power is available, and its conversion from the quantities of ethylene removable from coal and coke-oven gas, even should a cheap process be worked out, is not likely to add very materially to the world's liquid-fuel supplies.
Whilst the use of alcohol for power purposes, mainly in connexion with stationary and agricultural engines, was common in Germany before the war, its employment in Europe and also in the United States for motor engines has not made much headway, nor was it apparent in 1921 that any active steps were being taken outside the British Empire to develop it for the purpose on any considerable scale. In France, where large stocks of alcohol were left over from the manufacture of explosives during the war, it was unable to compete with petrol as regards price, and was only being used in comparatively small quantities, and mixed with benzol. The German production of alcohol had fallen off very much since the war, and little if any was being used for motors, benzol being the fuel principally employed. The manufacture of alcohol from the sulphite lyes of the wood-pulp industry was contemplated, but carbide, although produced in increasing quantities, was not considered as a possible raw material owing to its greater importance as a source of the fertilizer cyanamide. An alcohol monopoly law was passed in July 1918. With cheap water-power Switzerland has considerable capacity for producing carbide and alcohol from it, but even in that country the ultimate cost of alcohol made in this way was so high that its production after the war had not paid. In Sweden, where wood pulp is made in enormous quantities, the manufacture of alcohol from the waste sulphite lyes is carried on, and it was estimated that in 1920 the probable capacity was in the neighbourhood of 8,000,000 gal.; the actual production, however, amounted to about 2,750,000 gal. only. Norway also produces sulphite lyes and alcohol from them on a smaller scale.
There are several distilleries in the United States devoted to the production of industrial alcohol, with an estimated capacity of about 90,000,000 gal.; in 1919 about ioo,000,000 gal. were made, representing, however, only about 22% of the estimated United States liquidfuel requirements for 1920. Some attention is also being given to the manufacture of alcohol for power purposes in Hawaii, Porto Rico and the Philippines; and in Cuba, from the molasses produced as a by-product in the sugar refineries. (F. L. N.)
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