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Promoting ethanol in the shadow of oil dependence: 100 years of arguments and frictions in Swedish politics
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies. (USSTE)
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
2012 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of History, ISSN 0346-8755, Vol. 37, no 5, 621-645 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

On a political level, Swedish transport ethanol has always been embedded in visions of an alternative, brighter future. Arguments in support of ethanol have been reiterated throughout the 20th and 21st century, exhibiting a striking stability over time. At the same time, the contexts in which arguments for ethanol have been raised have undergone dramatic shifts. This article investigates the historical contingencies of three empirical cases, covering the interwar years, the aftermath of the oil crises of the 1970s and the 21st century’s concerns over global warming. It concludes with the observation that despite political convictions about ethanol’s commercial, military and environmental potential, domestic production has not managed to take off on its own. It has relied on state support such as tax exemptions, it has been dependent on other industries for feedstock provision and its technical superiority is still waiting for market confirmation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 37, no 5, 621-645 p.
Keyword [en]
ethanol, energy policy, controversy, history of biofuels, visions, Sweden
National Category
History History of Technology History of Ideas
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57937DOI: 10.1080/03468755.2012.725677ISI: 000315716200004OAI: diva2:545863
Available from: 2012-08-21 Created: 2012-08-21 Last updated: 2014-07-29
In thesis
1. Bränsle för den moderna nationen: Etanol och gengas i Sverige under mellankrigstiden och andra världskriget
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Bränsle för den moderna nationen: Etanol och gengas i Sverige under mellankrigstiden och andra världskriget
2012 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[en]
Fuelling the Modern nation : Ethanol and Wood Gas as Alternative Fuels in Sweden during the Interwar Years and World War II
Abstract [en]

This thesis investigate Swedish policy-making concerning promotion of wood gas and ethanol distilled from fermented sulphite lye as domestic fuel alternatives in the Interwar years and World War II. With a departure point in the theories of social constructions of technology (SCOT), the sociology of expectations and Thomas P. Hughe’s socio-technical systems I analyse the measures that were undertaken in these efforts, the arguments put forward for and against the ethanol and wood gas projects and how the efforts turned out. I also investigate how the interpretations of ethanol and wood gas as fuel alternatives changed from the Interwar period on through World War II and what consequences this had for ethanol and wood gas policy immediately after World War II. Source material includes Parliament and Government records, cabinet meeting files, governmental commissions, authority archives, technical evaluations and handbooks and scientific medical publications.

Ethanol and wood gas were promoted from a nationalist vantage point. The Interwar debate was imbued with visions of national techno-scientific prowess in a perceived ongoing global contest for technological and scientific advancement, of which achieving autarky, self-sufficiency on important raw materials and industrial products, was an ideal for some. Ethanol and wood gas were also promoted as means for creating a lucrative new market for the forestry industry, which also held a prominent position in nationalist visions of technology. Expectations of a new war also motivated the promotion of ethanol and wood gas as national fuels. Measures for promotion included tax exemptions, sales guarantees and legislation for mandatory ethanol purchase for all petrol importing companies and gasifier loan funds. Political conflicts mainly centred around the principles of free trade as opposed to protectionism, proper use of tax funds and whether the potentials of the fuel alternatives were rhetorically exaggerated. During World War II ethanol and wood gas in particular served as important petrol surrogates. The increased wood gas use led to negative interpretations of wood gas a fuel alternative due to its hazardous, dirty and time-consuming maintenance and the changed driving behaviour it required from its users compared to petrol or ethanol fuelled automobiles. Compared to wood gas, ethanol was appreciated for its socio-technical similarities to petrol, but production was after the war deemed difficult to maintain during wartime. Whereas wood gas remained an important stand-by surrogate during the cold war, Swedish politicians lost interest in ethanol of the kind that was promoted in the Interwar years. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2012. 72 p.
, Historiska studier: skrifter från Umeå universitet, 4
alternative fuels, ethanol, wood gas, energy policy, controversy, history of biofuels, alternative technology, social constructions of technology, socio-technical systems, political debate, socio-technical debate, history of technology, automotive history., drivmedel, etanol, generatorgas, gengas, drivmedelsalternativ, biodrivmedel, förväntningar, kontrovers, sociotekniska system, sociala konstruktioner av teknik, alternativ teknik, politik, teknikdebatt, energipolitik, mellankrigstiden, andra världskriget, autarki, socioteknisk debatt, automobilhistoria, motorhistoria
National Category
History of Technology History History of Ideas
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57904 (URN)978-91-7459-466-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-09-21, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:15 (Swedish)
Fuel of the Future? A Research Programme on the Science, Technology and Selling of Biofuels in Sweden
Available from: 2012-08-30 Created: 2012-08-21 Last updated: 2012-08-28Bibliographically approved

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Eklöf, JennyEkerholm, HelenaMårald, Erland
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