The Prospects for l
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a Petrol Importer.
THE WAR has necessarily disturbed everything connected with the motoring industry, not least the supplies of fuel on which it depends. One advantage, however, is that it ha a forced to the front the consideration of alternate fuels ec,ncerning which before the war so much was written, and so little siehieved. The important point is not so much how we are to " ca,ri-Son" under the present abnormal conditions, but what are the fuel prospects when peace comes suddenly (as it probably will) and the taotor industry has to switch over its manifold labours from war to peace. What fuels will be aitailable to meet the enormous demands of civilization as it enlists the aid of the motor to recreate its shattered cities and rebuild its fnany industrial activities? Petrol has become during the war as scarce almost -as otter of roses, although not so sweetly scented. Will it be as plentiful as ever, afterwards? Gas has "made good plentiful
an alternate fuel. Will it seriously challenge the supremacy of other fuels in the keen. competition of peaceful days ? Benzoic is a fuel of proved value. Will it be plentiful and will it be cheap? What about alcohol as a potential home supply of motor fuel? These are considerations deserving of close attention, as design of post-war vehicles must inevitably be influenced by the fuels they are likely to use. • Let us first consider the question of petrol. On this depends very largely-the success of competitive fuels. If it is scarce, if it is dear, its scarcity and Cost will stimulate the production of substitute fuels. If it is plentiful and reasonable in price the essential stimulus for substitute fuels is absent. No one pro bably prefers margarine on his table when fresh dairy butter is plentiful and cheap. So with motor fuels. In proportion as petrol is available in ample quantity and at fair prices, so the substitute fuels will retire respectfully into the background.
There will be plenty of gas and benzole after the wary and alcohol may be allowed as a fuel. It entirely depends on the petrol situation whether or not they will be as important after the war as they are now. The comprehensivePans for low' temperature distillation of coal_ will result in greatly augmented supplies of benzole. Probably the manufacturers will seek to dispose of this in large parcels to big commercial users. It would involve too much eapital to attempt. to create a distributing agency covering the country similar to those of the petrol companies, who have sunk hundreds of thousands if not millions in sites for depots, pump' houses, storage tanks, filling sheds, motor and horse vehicles, seaboard installations, etc. The alternative to selling direct to large consumers would be to dispose of it to existing petrol companies. In either case its cost will naturally tend to approximate very closely to the market price of petrol. If the petrol concerns handle it they would probably market it as a benzole or mix it with second grade petrol as a commercial fuel. In the writer's opinion, having regard to the large supplies. of liquid fuel that will be available, gas which is doing excellent service during the war, will be quite a subsidiary fuel in peace time. Benzole will be the chief competitor, eittitr pure oab mixed with petrol as mentioned. Alcohol which has made headway in South Africa may also arrive, and it is-of interest to note that in Brazil alcohol containing five per cent, of kerosene is now regarded as denatured, and is to be free of taxation.
It has been stated that the petrol position will prove the key to the fuel situation after the war. What, then, is the prospect in this direction? The striking thing about the petroleum Ind try is its proved flexibility and capacity for expansion. When lamp oil was its staple product years ago, t was-supplied to the full. When the passenger nntor came the new fuel was available—t en a light high-grade spirit of .680 specific gravity which motorists, will' never see again. As the motor grew so the supplies increased, and with more "robust" types of carburettor the. gravity wads increased. Phenomenally rapid as was the expansion of the automobile, the,produetion of petrol kept pace with it. This is illustrated in surveying the total world production of petroleum over the past ten years, which in round figures is as
Notwithstanding the war, it will be noted that production continues to increase since 1914.
A further important fact is the growth of the newer fields of production. Thus in 1917 Persia doubled its output from 400,000 tons in 1915 to 800,000 tons ; Argentine, quite a new field, jumped in the same period from 91,000 tons to 207,000 tons ; Egypt from 33,000 tons to 134,000 tons, Trinidad from 155,000 tons to 200,000 tons. All these are relatively small figures, it is true, but their significance lies in the fact that they are new fields,. mostly unheard of a few years ago, and showing marked potentialitiea for future growth. Most important of all new territories is Mexico, which, when transport is available, will be developed on a scale rivalling the present output of the United States, Which now represents about 60 per cent. of the world's output. Of the United Stales, it is estimated that its present production will, at the least, last another 22 years, and meanwhile its younger rivals are growing apace.
The petroleum industry, with its tens of millions of capital, is a young giant—full of strength and still in its youth. Many years must elapse before it reaches maturity. Another factor in the question is the transition from what may be called rule of thumb" distillation to keen scientific methods. The percentage of petrol thereby obtained from the crude oil is consequently increased and will go on increasing as the new processes are perfected.
The tendency of the future will probably be to market certain grades for certain classes of work-. The aeroplane will alwayt demand a light spirit ranging between .680 and .700 specific gravity. The passenger e,ar will get a spirit of .720 to .725 sp. gr., whilst, • for commercial vehicles, .760 to .770 sp. gr. will be the average. The main thing is that the two latter grades will be homogeneous, that is with a flat low range of initial and final boiling points, which is really more useful than a lighter spirit containing fractions of low initial and high final boiling points.
The writer's conclusion is that petrol will continue to hold its premier position as a motor fuel for the next ten years or more, with benzole as its nearest and most useful competitor. No one can predict what developments of science and chemistry will occur in that period, but there will be time enough later on to consider the further possible evolution of the motor fuel question when petrol shows signs of failing to meet the world's growing needs. Of this there is at
present no indication. 231_,