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After World War I, many European nations no longer wanted to depend on foreign fossil fuels and sought national renewable sources. In France, inhabitants of the forest regions of south-west advocated wood as a technological alternative for fuel, envisaging the transformation of forest waste into an inexhaustible energy source for cars and trucks. Despite the lobbying efforts of political and military leaders, wood fuels failed to gain enough momentum in France. Because of the huge variety of production techniques required specially adapted machines, the challenge to the primacy of petroleum fell short. It mirrors the current debates on establishing a post-fossil fuel world as it shows that the overabundance of technological alternatives may prevent any one of them from reaching a critical mass. The article engages in a dialogue between history of technology and sustainability studies by trying to understand the promises and failures of the past alternatives to the petroleum-based technological paradigm.