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Ford’s “Fuel of the Future” Still Powering America Forward

June 14, 2016


This month marks the 120th anniversary of an automotive milestone: Henry Ford’s test drive of his first vehicle, the Quadricycle. The 20-mile-an-hour Quadricycle, which was literally built using two sets of bicycle wheels, would launch the career of an industrial pioneer and push the world into a new era for transportation. The 32-year-old engineer had single-handedly revolutionized the “horseless carriage” with his experiment that ran on an unenviably-small three gallons of … ethanol. Ford was a staunch supporter of using fuel ethanol, which he called the “fuel of the future,” in part because of its effect on engine performance. From the Model T to the Mustang, the performance of these machines’ engines came down to the quality of fuel — or more specifically, octane. Today, ethanol is the cleanest and cheapest source of octane on the planet. The benefits of ethanol have long been apparent to gasoline blenders and it’s not hard to see why. To describe ethanol as the most multifaceted fuel source in America may seem like embellishment in a 2016 world where sensationalism has become the norm, but for a fuel that dates back to Ford’s days, the liquid that chemists better describe as EtOH truly is amazing when you examine its versatility. The ethanol industry has grown from a niche sector of the fuel market to become a ubiquitous component of the motor fuel market available at nearly every gas station in the country. With an octane rating of 113, ethanol provides more knock resistance per dollar than any other additive. Ethanol’s benefits aren’t just being felt here in the United States; international markets are also starting to recognize ethanol’s ability to upgrade gasoline octane ratings, which in Europe, for example, are much higher due to their more stringent fuel economy standards. Ethanol increases octane in a much cleaner way than more harmful petroleum-derived octane such as toluene and benzene. Moreover, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline, and as a renewable source, ethanol is in the best position to meet the needs of high-octane engines without harming the environment. Consumers unfamiliar with ethanol will find that they get real bang for their buck. Those that are familiar know that the fuel blend is providing a clean, energy-efficient source of octane for their engine for a low cost at the pump. The Renewable Fuels Foundation and MathPro Inc. intend to educate those still unacquainted with ethanol and octane with a series of webinars this summer. The first session, “All About Octane,” is set to be held on Wednesday. If the founder of one of Detroit’s Big Three can build his empire upon the earliest of early flex-fuel vehicles running on ethanol, it might be worth taking a second look at what we put in our own tank.