'Ethanol's Lost History' is Nov. 16 presentation topic

Released on 11/03/2006, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006

WHERE: Great Plains Art Gallery, 1155 Q Street, Hewit Place

Lincoln, Neb., November 3rd, 2006 —
Earl Coryell's gas station (black-and-white JPEG)
Earl Coryell's gas station (black-and-white JPEG)

You may feel very up-to-date when you pull up at the pump to fill your tank with ethanol, but Nebraskans more than 70 years ago were doing exactly the same thing. How ethanol disappeared, only to be rediscovered, will be explored in a public presentation at 7 p.m. Nov. 16, at the Great Plains Art Museum, 1155 Q St.

Bill Kovarik, professor of communication at Radford University in Radford, Va., will offer insights into the long, little-known and intrigue-filled history of ethanol in a presentation co-sponsored by the Nebraska State Historical Society and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Center for Great Plains Studies.

Kovarik teaches science and environment writing, media history and media law at Radford. His books include a history of ethanol in the United States, "The Forbidden Fuel: Power Alcohol in the Twentieth Century, and Mass Media and Environmental Conflict" (with Mark Neuzil).

This innovative motor fuel was offered not as a way to relieve short oil supplies or mitigate environmental problems. Rather, ethanol promised economic relief for Depression-ravaged farmers and offered increased octane ratings. Ethanol was an excellent anti-knock additive, and entrepreneur Earl Coryell worked with scientists from the then Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (renamed Iowa State University in 1959) to develop the alcohol-blend gasoline. Ethanol's principal competitor was tetraethyl lead (TEL), a highly poisonous chemical, which would remain the principal anti-knock agent for nearly 50 years. Advanced by the Ethyl Corp., an enterprise created by Standard Oil, General Motors and DuPont, TEL was ethanol's, and therefore Coryell's, strongest competition.

In 1936 Coryell joined as a complainant in an antitrust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department, which would ultimately fail in the U.S. Supreme Court. By 1940, ethanol gasoline had vanished, unable to compete economically with leaded gasoline. "Back to the Fuel of the Future: Exploring Ethanol's Lost History" is open to the public free of charge. For more information call the Nebraska State Historical Society at (402) 471-3270 or visit www.nebraskahistory.org.

In the April 11, 1933, image at the link below, Nebraska Gov. Charles Wayland Bryan and the unidentified sheriff of Merrick County symbolically filled their gas tanks with a new product: a blend of gasoline with 10 percent corn alcohol. The pumps at Coryell's station, 14th and N streets, Lincoln, were decorated to promote the new gas. (Photo courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society.)

CONTACTS: Lynne Ireland, Nebraska State Historical Society, (402) 471-4758 (presentation);
Kim Weide, Center for Great Plains Studies, (402) 472-3965 (presentation); and
John Carter, Nebraska State Historical Society, (402) 472-4752 (history of ethanol in Nebraska)