A Confused Issue

 THE Congress of the United States is being requested to pass a law requiring that all gasoline sold for use in internal combustion engines have added to it a certain part (about 10%) of ethyl alcohol. The question of the possible legal requirement gives rise to several interesting considerations.

There are at least three distinct phases of the subject which are jumbled together in many of the discussions I have read or heard, without any clear indication that they are recognized as separate items. Because this is rather typical of popular argument, it may be worth while to indicate a logical method of approach to the subject.

Perhaps the order in which the questions occur to us is about as follows:

1. Can a stable mixture of alcohol and gasoline be made?
2. Is the mixed fuel usable in our present en-gines?
3. Is the proposed method of use economical?
4. Would this procedure help agriculture ?
5. Assuming an affirmative answer to (4). do we wish to adopt this method of assisting agriculture?
A survey of these few questions brings out the point I would make,—viz.. that it is necessary to deal with the question under at least three main topics.
(a). Is the proposal a physical possibility?
(b}. Would it pay, directly?
(c). Should we do it?
The first has to do with technical possibilities; the second with economics; the third with expediency.

Let us outline the case further without at first offering evidence to support it or to oppose it.

Question (a) raises the inquiry as to whether or not a permanent mixture can be made. It also pre-sents the problem of successful use of the mixed fuel for internal combustion engines. If it can be answered affirmatively, the case is open to further consideration. If the answer is negative, there is no need of going on.

This question is therefore fundamental.

Only a careful scientific study or an extended experiment can answer part (a). We must consider the effects of small amounts of water as an admixture. Both low temperatures and high temperatures must be tried. The stability of the mixture must be established, or the fuel will be a variable. As for successful use, we must know whether or not the engine will run on this fuel, what effects incomplete combustion may have upon cylinder lubrication, etc.

Question (b) relates to the immediate, personal economic aspect. Would it pay me to use 10% of alcohol in my gasoline?

This is distinctly a secondary matter. If the answer is affirmative, the investigation may well proceed. If the answer is negative, it does not close the case. For the major issue is not to be decided upon the question of whether or not it would be better economy for individuals. It may be that we should be required to do this, whether we choose or not. Economy vs. expense would set-tle it, if I were doing it for myself, or if the vendors were presenting rival claims for their fuels. "Buy mine. and get more miles per dollar."

But public policy may enter at this point and determine for me what I may do. And this brings us to question (c.).

(c). Shall the Congress require it?
This is wholly a matter of public good, and must be determined by careful study of the effects which the plan would have if put to work. There would ensue the manufacture of enormous quantities of grain alcohol with a corresponding consumption of farm products.. Prices would be affected and some additional income would be afforded to the farmer.

Great factories would have to be built and great amounts of capital would have to enter the picture. There would be added employment for both labor and capital.

Who would profit, and how much?

These and many other phases of the project would need to be most carefully evaluated.

Now it was not my primary intention to go beyond the analysis outlined above.. But brief reference may not be out of place to the findings, especially upon the technical questions of stability of mixture, and usability of the fuel.

There are good reasons to believe that 100% ethyl alcohol can be mixed successfully with gasoline. and that the difficulties of separation and turbidity can be overcome; likewise, that this mixture can be used in our present internal combustion engines without noticeable difference in output or efficiency.

Of course, if best results are to be secured, the design of both engine and accessory parts must be adapted to the fuel.

If the proposal becomes a law, it must have a perspective long enough to guarantee to capital both safety and returns. This will undoubtedly afford time enough actually to affect design.

As to the public policy, I shall say nothing here. That will receive extended consideration of economists and of politicians, and you may read the daily papers for their words of wisdom.