Alternative energy history

In addition to writing serious history about alternative fuels, over the past several years I’ve been asked to comment on the current condition and future prospects of ethanol, biodiesel and other fuel alternatives.  Interviews have shown up in the Associated Press, Norfolk Pilot, National Public Radio and Roanoke Times.

  • Where are the Steve Wozniaks of the Energy Revolution? True Slant, May 30, 2010  — Why it is that the social construction of energy technology is so much more difficult than the social construction of, say, computing and the digital media revolution? Was IBM that much less of a challenge than Standard Oil? Where are the Steve Wozniaks of the energy revolution?”
  • Running on ‘E’ — Norfolk Virginian Pilot, Dec. 3, 2011 — “Ethanol isn’t new. Benjamin Franklin used it for his warming pan in the 18th century, said Bill Kovarik, a professor of communication at Radford University who has studied the topic. Henry Ford built the Model T with an “adjustable carburetor” to run on gas or ethanol, Kovarik said.
  • United Nations: Leaded gasoline to be eliminated — Associated Press, worldwide, Oct. 27, 2011 — Leaded gasoline became universal despite warnings from public health advocates and a scandal over the deaths in 1924 of six refinery workers in Newark, New Jersey, who were poisoned while manufacturing it and “were led away in straitjackets,” said Bill Kovarik, a journalist and communication professor at Radford University who researched the history of leaded gasoline.“Historically, there are only a handful of major environmental victories like this,” Kovarik said. “It took 90 years to eradicate what was always a well-known poison from a product that everyone uses. It’s a great achievement, but it really says something about how public health works globally, that it took so long … Benjamin Franklin complained about lead poisoning in print shops.”
  • What comes after ethanol? — Roanoke Times, Sept. 4, 2011 — Some people say that government shouldn’t be in the business of choosing technologies. They say they want an unregulated marketplace. But if that were true, we wouldn’t have military protection for the Persian Gulf, we wouldn’t have an insurance ceiling for the nuclear power industry, and we would still be talking about taking the lead out of gasoline. We need to remember our history and use a little common sense in our energy policy before taking thoughtless actions we may later come to regret.
  • Ethanol gets a boost National Public Radio, Dec. 21, 2010 — Ethanol may seem modern, but people throughout Appalachia have been making it for hundreds of years. “We are known for our moonshine industry,” says science writer Bill Kovarik with a laugh, “very well known for our moonshine industry. It is still flourishing.” Kovarik, who’s also a professor at Radford University, says that ethanol is, first and foremost, a way to make corn more valuable. More than a century ago, Henry Ford built cars to run on it, with just that in mind. “So, you could replace the transportation income that farmers used to have by [their] growing the fuel for the cars, instead of growing horses and feed.” Prohibition killed that idea, but the farm crisis, oil shocks and environmental concerns have revived it. Lawmakers gave companies a tax credit — currently 45 cents a gallon, more than $5 billion a year — for blending ethanol with gasoline.


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