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Ett nationellt drivmedel: etanol i svensk politik 1924-1934
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
2013 (Swedish)In: Scandia, ISSN 0036-5483, Vol. 79, no 1, 63-86 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article investigates the political efforts to establish ethanol as a national fuel in Sweden in 1924 - 1934. Drawing on official records - the transcripts of parliamentary debates, governmental commission reports, and government bills and legislation - ethanol is considered as a technological and political artefact, with a particular focus on a strongly ideological fuel policy intended to bring about technological change.

At the time, considerable political effort went into finding and establishing a national fuel, efficient and abundant enough to support the nation's requirements for essential products. This was by no means a uniquely Swedish undertaking. Nation-states all over the industrialized world sought domestic fuel alternatives, prompted by the expected depletion of oil reserves and the fear of renewed international conflict. In that period, Swedish ethanol was distilled from fermented sulphite lye, a waste product from paper and pulp production. It was therefore presented as a lucrative solution for a waste problem, and, as it was produced within the nation-state's borders, a promising wartime surrogate. However, ethanol was more expensive than petrol, which made it less marketable during peacetime. To cover losses, the ethanol industry requested state support in the form of tax exemptions and legislation to force petrol importers to blend ethanol into all marketed petrol.

Those who argued in favour of the ethanol industry's requests were mainly right-wing politicians, who based their arguments on a nationalist ideology that national collective benefit justified state intervention in the free market. Opposition was mainly mounted by a faction in the Social Democrat party. For them, any measure that made products more expensive for consumers was unthinkable. They also argued that the ethanol industry had reached the end of the line; any production without the means and capacity to support itself should make way for its competitors. Concerns about the anticipated international conflict, however, led the Social Democrat minister for finance, Ernst Wigforss, to concede to the demands of the ethanol industry. In 1934, he thus proposed legislation that largely corresponded to claims made by right-wing politicians and the influential forestry industry, of which ethanol production was a part.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 79, no 1, 63-86 p.
Keyword [en]
ethanol, political technologies, alternative fuels, interwar policy, controversy
Keyword [sv]
etanol, politik, drivmedelsalternativ, alternativ teknik, mellankrigstid, tekniknationalism, beredskap
National Category
History History of Technology
Research subject
History; History Of Sciences and Ideas
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-57938OAI: diva2:545772
Fuel of the Future
Available from: 2012-08-21 Created: 2012-08-21 Last updated: 2013-11-29Bibliographically approved
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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