Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “biofuel”

What is Union Spirit?

Union Spirit is (or was) biofuel made as a by-product of sugar refining in Natal, South Africa.

Someone asked the question “What is Union Spirit” in a newsgroup devoted to human rights, and I think it was a reference to some political slogan being used in Burma alias Myanmar.

But I remember it as a brand of petrol.

It was originally (in the 1940s) sold only in Natal, and mainly in and around Durban, where many garages would have a Union pump. In those days garages sold several brands of petrol. There were no “one brand” garages. The commonest brands were Caltex, Shell, Pegasus and Atlantic. Pegasus later became Mobil and is now Engen. Atlantic became BP.

In the Transvaal province in the 1950s there was Satmar, which was made from torbanite (oil shale) and later Sasol (made from coal).

In the 1960s there was one garage in Johannesburg that sold Union Spirit. It was in Jeppestown, and was in demand among sports car drivers because at that time the regular petrol sold at other garages was 87 octane, and not suitable for high-compression engines, even at Johannesburg’s altitude

Union Spirit was 100 octane.

BIOFUEL — the answer to the energy crisis?

I’ve seen quite a number of bloggers promoting the idea of biofuels to solve the energy crisis, without the bloggers apparently being aware of the problems, which are well summarised here: Journey Home: BIOFUEL Realities – Not so fast big guys!

One of the biofuels that has been around longest is snake oil, and we ought to know by now that that is not the answer.

South Africans are no strangers to biofuels. In my youth one could buy “Union Spirit” at just about every garage in Durban. It was a by-product of sugar refining, made from sugar cane. It wasn’t sold outside the Natal coastal belt though, with one exception. There one one garage in Jeppe, Johannesburg, which sold it in the 1960s. That was before petrol was sold with two octane ratings, premium and regular. Union was 100 octane, and was therefore prized by car enthusiasts who souped up their cars by increasing the compression ratio so that they could no longer run on regular petrol.

But even in the days of sanctions, in the late 1980s, when South Africa’s oil supply was erratic and precarious, and the government stockpiled oil in secret locations around the country, Union was not plugged as the answer, and in fact that is when it declined and disappeared from the market.

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