One of the best places to start to begin understanding the history of biofuels is an excellent write-up at Yokayo Biofuels. The history there is detailed and shows many of the politics and people that have shaped the course of biodiesel in the 20th century.
Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, believed from the start that biofuels were the best fuels for the future. In 1912, according to Biodiesel America, he said, “The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time.”
Yokayo also mentions Henry Ford’s fascination with ethanol, partnering with Standard Oil in the 1920s to sell ethanol at gas stations in the Midwest. Ethanol was popular, making up a quarter of the stations’ sales, until cheap petroleum flowed onto the scene in the 1930s and 1940s. With cheap petroleum looking more and more like an oxymoron, perhaps gas stations will soon bring their pumps back up to 1920s standards.
[Source: Yokayo Biofuels]