Bell, The Greenhouse Effect & Alcohol
The history of renewable energy started much before Alexander Graham Bell's time. "Burning fluid" or camphene, the most popular lamp fuel of the 1850s, consisted of turpentine distilled from wood, alcohol distilled from grains, and camphor oil, and sold for 50 cents a gallon. This alcohol powered irons, coffee roasters, hot water heaters and stoves, and even alcohol-fueled cars were common in those days.
The discovery of “rock oil", now known as fossil fuel, soon changed the scene. The lower costs of kerosene when compared to camphene, the tax benefits for kerosene, which was taxed at 10 cents a gallon as opposed to $2 per gallon of camphene, and the relentless marketing and expansion efforts of oil companies, soon made gasoline and kerosene cheaper and more readily available.
Alexander Graham Bell was amongst the first to understand that increasing use of fossil fuels would harm the environment, and that the day was not far away when the sources of such non-renewable forms of energy would dry up. He coined the term “greenhouse effect" to explain the phenomenon of the world becoming warmer due to the burning of fossil fuels.
By 1914, Alexander Graham Bell started exploring various renewable energy sources as possible alternative fuel options. He considered the available alternatives of water power, wood, and direct harnessing of the sun’s rays, but soon identified alcohol or ethanol as the best fossil fuel substitute able to meet the demands of the future.
In his article in the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 31 of February 1917, Alexander Graham Bell suggests alcohol as a “clean, beautiful, and efficient fuel," which “if not intended for consumption by human beings, can be manufactured very cheaply."
Alexander Graham Bell advocated the manufacture of alcohol mainly from corn stalks, and from any vegetable matter capable of fermentation, such as growing crops, weeds, waste products or farm stubble, and even garbage from cities.