Sweden's Fuel Crisis, 1939-1945

Sweden coped with a fuel crisis of its own at the start of World War II — when its gasoline supply was cut off completely — by turning to wood gasification.

| March/April 1981

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Kurt Ek lived through the fuel crisis that crippled Sweden at the start of World War II.


 All too often humankind is, collectively, guilty of procrastination. Consider the fact that, until several years ago, few gave much thought to our dwindling fuel resources ... and that even today, with the handwriting clearly on the wall, precious little is being done to find solutions to the problem. 

Well, Kurt Ek has already been through a similar fuel crisis in his lifetime and hopes people can be convinced to prepare alternatives before the situation is repeated. Kurt, you see, grew up in pre-World War II Sweden and knows from firsthand experience the staggering effect which the sudden discontinuation of energy supplies can have upon a civilized society. Mr. Ek was kind enough to contact us and offer to share the fruits of his firsthand familiarity with the subject of wood gasification. Some of his experience-gained observations are printed here. 

"In my homeland, during the 1930's, horse-drawn vehicles were well on the way out. Although we did use working animals in the country and on smaller farms, petrol-driven machinery handled most of the labor and transportation tasks at the time. Now you probably know what happened in 1939-40. Within that year, Sweden was blockaded and completely cut off from any source of petroleum ... and we simply didn't have a domestic supply, except for any small amounts of gasoline that might have been stored by individuals or businesses.

"Then, in the summer of 1940, a law was passed ordering us to stop all driving whatsoever! From that moment on every gallon of gasoline in the country belonged to the government, even the fuel in an individual citizen's automobile gas tank! Farmers couldn't get their food or milk to market, so they dumped what they couldn't use themselves. Stores were empty, while fire and police vehicles sat inoperative. It was chaos for a while. After a bit, a rationing plan was adopted, but there obviously wasn't enough petrol to go around. So, in time, the country began to make the switch to wood gasification.

"I drove a 1936 Chevy flatbed for a living and had to use wood chips for fuel. It wasn't as convenient as gasoline, but it got the job done and I was thankful. I figured that, under the best circumstances, I had about 75% of the power that gasoline would deliver and only had to make minor timing changes to the engine. Though a few vehicles—including the American-made motorcycle I drove for a while—needed a compression ratio increase to use the wood gas effectively.

"Of course, the single most important fact about the switch to wood was that it kept all essential traffic moving. I really don't believe it would take much to spark a major conflict in the Middle East today, and we ought to prepare ourselves for the shortages that'd result while we have the chance to experiment."

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