Frederick A. Draper
After Jan. 1, 1907, no internal revenue tax will be imposed upon denaturized or undrinkable alcohol, and the indications are that after that date there will be a rapid and immense increase in its manufacture and uses. Under the conditions hitherto prevailing, 95 per cent proof alcohol has cost to profitably manufacture about 30 cents per gallon, and the internal revenue tax has been $2.20 per gallon, making the cost prohibitive to many lines of industry, and greatly limiting its uses.
Greatly enlarged consumption will follow the comparatively low price; new sources of raw material will be utilized for its manufacture, and the farming sections of the country will here find a new market for certain crops. It is estimated by Dr. Wiley, chief of the National Bureau of Chemistry, that from corn alcohol may be distilled at a cost of about 12 cents a gallon; from molasses 10 cents a gallon, from potatoes specially cultivated for the purpose, 9 cents a gallon.
Dr. Hanson, an expert of the Department of Agriculture, has secured seed from Europe of a variety of potato which grows to a size several times larger than the common edible potato and is capable of .yielding a lage quantity of alcohol. It is, however, too coarse for the table. Rusty or smutty grain, surplus fruit and vegetables, instead of being a loss to the farmer, will hereafter be turned into the still and supply the farmer with fuel for running an engine with which to saw wood, pump water, grind feed, churn butter, run a cream separator in the daytime and light the premises at night.
The pumping of water at low cost will make an impoitant difference in the cultivation of farms in the arid regions of the country, as land can be irrigated without regard to the distance from petroleum, coal or wood. The sugar beet, which can be very easily grown on irrigated land, yields an abundance of alcohol which, as fuel for pumping machinery, would enable the irrigated area to be greatly extended.
As a fuel for the kitchen alcohol possesses many advantages, being odorless, non-explosive and clean. For lighting purposes, by means of the incandescent mantle lamp, it is excellent, but some inventive work will probably be advisable before it will be commonly used for either cooking or lighting.
It is not to be assumed, because no tax is to be levied, that alcohol can be manufactured by anyone who wishes. The temptation to omit the denaturizing part of its preparation would be too great to allow of its manufacture without proper supervision. The processes must still be conducted by properly licensed establishments where the addition of other fiuids to make it undrinkable will be made. In all probability it will be necessary for farmers to organize and operate small distilleries on the co-operative or some other plan, special arrangements being made for those living in remote sections of the country.
As it is its application to the internal combustion motor which will be of most interest to readers of this magazine, it is well to state that but little reliable data is obtainable in this country upon which the designs of explosive engines can be based. Much has been done in Germany and France in the way of perfecting such engines, and the leading manufacturers will thoroughly investigate the results in these fields before catering to the home market. Even with such information as may be obtainable abroad, much experimenting will remain to be done, and new designs should be thoroughly investigated before being accepted.
It is of interest to understand the cause of the difficulties which confront the engine builder. The higher a liquid fuel is in carbon, the more readily will it explode under the heat of compression, while a fuel low in carbon but high in hydrogen, permits of high corn-compression without generating excessive beat with combustion. A mixture of gasoline vapor and air may be exploded under low compression, but the customary pressure found in engines varies from 70 to 100 pounds.
With alcohol, however, another factor must be taken into consideration, and that is its affinity for water, so called pure alcohol " pure" alcohol carrying from four to six per cent of water. As water may readily be added, forming a complete mixture, adulteration with water will be easy and detection will be difficult. The boiling point of a mixture of 95 per cent, alcohol and 5 per cent water is 460° F., while a mixture one-half alcohol and one half water requires 930° to evaporate it, or over twice as high temperature.
The degree of purity of alcohol becomes important when we consider the means for vaporizing it. In all probability the solution to successful vaporization of commercial alcohol will be found in some method of utilizing the heat of the exhaust gases to heat the air feed before carrying it through the alcohol receptacle. The use of heated air in this connection will not entail a loss of power, because the evaporation of the alcohol will cause a sufficient loss of heat and contraction of volume to produce a mixture of relatively low temper-ture.
Referring again to the compression, it is evident that it must be proportionate to the grade of alcohol to be used, as the greater the quantity of water the higher must the compression be carried to secure sufficiently rapid combustion.
Owing to structural conditions there is a limit to which this can be advantageously carried, and 150 pounds for 90 per cent alcohol, and 175 pounds for 75 per cent seem to be that limit. The necessity of using a fairly uniform grade of alcohol for a given engine is evident, although variations within reasonable limits will not seriously interfere with the proper working of an engine
The water contained in alcohol is not without its useful purposes, however, as it serves to take up much of the excessive heat due to combustion. Air cooled engines will probably be the rule in all except the very largest sizes, and the troubles of water cooling will be avoided. A lessened cost of manufacture should also follow unless the requirements of vaporization offset any saving from this source.
Some difficulty has been experienced in starting engines using alcohol as a fuel, gasoline or benzine being used to assist until sufficient heat has been developed to permit of alcohol alone. It is quite probable, also, that these fuels may be mixed with alcohol to provide fuel for existing engines, such a mixture having distinct advantages for such application.
From the foregoing it is evident that much experimental work remains to be done, before the alcohol engine can be considered as being sufficiently perfected to command an unquestioned position in the pow-er world. How soon it will reach such a condition remains with the inventive abilities of manufacturers to determine. We shall know more about the success of their efforts by the time the additional distilleries have been equipped and have begun to put upon the market alcohol in sufficient quantity as to make it readily obtainable.