Book Review – Climate of Corruption

In the past several years, there seems to be a growing number of people who believe that global warming is a very orchestrated political and environmental hoax. As hype around Earth Day is growing (April 22, 2011), I thought it would be interesting to read, “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax,” by Larry Bell. Now Larry Bell is no more a climate scientist than Al Gore. He is a space architect and doesn’t pretend to be anything different. But Bell believes there is a conspiracy amongst us relating to the horrors of climate change that center around fossil-fuel CO2 emissions.

He writes, “Understand that the real impetus behind the cooked numbers and doomspeak of the global warmers has little to do with the state of the environment and much to do with shackling capitalism and transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth redistribution (“social justice”).

Bell acknowledges that climate change is real – only that it is not man-made- and says that no one can reliably predict what Earth’s global climate will be in a decade or longer. What he sees as the real problem is the global energy supply dilemma, one that he believes has no simple solution.

Throughout the book, Bell lays out his case for his way of thinking beginning with “outing” those who are “cooking the climate books.” This includes Al Gore as well as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In other words, he “sets the record straight.” From there, he highlights those that he believes are political hijackers of science – meaning policy makers who have molded climate science research to support their own agenda – mainly cap and trade. (I fondly call this crap and raid.) Bell argues that all forms of cap and trade are scams. Continue reading

Book Review – The Green Miracle

This week I read the book called “The Green Miracle,” by Clayton McNeff who is one of the creators of the Mcgyan Process. It’s the story of how in less than four years, with the inkling of an idea from a college student, a new multi-feedstock production technology was created to produce biodiesel.

In 2006, McNeff was contacted by one of his former undergraduate college professors, Arlin Gyberg, at Augsburg College located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on behalf of one of his chemistry students, Brian Krohn. Krohn, a sophomore at the time, and now Rhodes Scholar, was going to conduct a 10-week summer research project on biodiesel. Krohn wanted to pursue producing biodiesel using a catalyst after his research uncovered some relatively unknown papers relating to the subject. As McNeff explains, a catalyst is something that speeds up a reaction and does not get consumed in a chemical reaction.

At the time, current biodiesel production was done by a chemical process called “based catalyzed transesterification.” In this process, oil and alcohol are chemically combined to produce esters (biodiesel) in a batch process where the reactants are put in a large tank, heated an stirred vigorously.

Krohn wanted to try using zirconia particles to catalyze the biodiesel reaction and although his experiments didn’t work, he sent along some papers to McNeff and that got his mind working in overtime – to the point where he called a meeting during which he suggested they try the very experiment that led to the Mcgyan Process discovery. The name came about after the research team that created it – Clayton McNeff, Arlin Gyberg and Dr. Ben Yan.

So how is this process different? It’s a continuous process where you combine an alcohol like ethanol and an oil like corn oil and run it through a reactor filled with a metal oxide catalyst. Then you add heat and pressure to the reactor and in a few seconds contact time the reaction is complete and you have biodiesel. This is all done without chemicals or water. And the Mcgyan Process has yet to meet an oil feedstock it couldn’t covert to ASTM standard biodiesel.

If you can shorten a less than four year story even more, after thousands of experiments to understand the chemistry of what they had, the team built a pilot scale facility and from there, a commercial scale 3 million gallon plant called Ever Cat Fuels (Ever Catalyst). In the middle of all of this, McNeff published papers about the findings, raised money, visited Washington, D.C., applied for DOE Loan Guarantees (which are nearly impossible to get for cutting edge, first-time technologies) and did all of this during the worst recession that this country has seen in 80 years.

While McNeff talks about how he believes this discovery and the consequent journey was “meant to be” it was not without its hardships. That’s in part what led he and his family to donate 5 cents from every gallon of biodiesel produced from Ever Cat Fuels to go to build a new science building at Augsburg College – the place where it all began.

I would be remiss to say that there are hundreds, if not thousands of researchers and entrepreneurs out there looking for the next breakthrough. It’s easy to get frustrated. The next time you do. Take a moment to read The Green Miracle. It won’t take long to inspire you and along the way, you’ll be reassured that America does in fact possess the willpower and the ingenuity to bring solutions to market to address our energy crisis today.

You can hear the story of The Green Miracle in Clayton McNeff’s own words in an excerpt of my interview with him: The Green Miracle

Book Review – The Forbidden Fuel

This week I read “The Forbidden Fuel: A History of Power Alcohol,” by authors Hal Bernton, William Kovarik and Scott Sklar. The book was originally published in 1982 and then republished in 2010 with a new Foreward added as well as a new Introduction added that gives the readers an update on where the ethanol industry is today. This book is absolutely the best history of alcohol fuel, aka ethanol, that I’ve ever read. But that being said, the reader must beware, that when reading the book, it was written in 1982 and the information and issues delivered were from that era. So when the authors discuss net energy, water use, etc., those facts and figures were the most up to date in 1982, not the most current in 2011.

On that note, here is what I found most interesting about the information in the book. The same issues that the industry is fighting today, food versus fuel, indirect land use, net energy, and more, are the same issues that the industry was fighting 40 years ago. In fact, some of these issues date back more than 60 plus years ago. The petroleum industry has been using the same arguments against using ethanol in fuel since the 1930s. So what I find most disturbing is that the ethanol industry has not been able to successfully fight these issues in literally 80 years, and therefore the oil industry has had no need to change its game.

The authors write that the first backlash from the oil industry came in 1933 when Iowa proposed a mandatory blending of ethyl alcohol in gasoline. The Iowa Petroleum Council printed a pamphlet headlined, “The alcohol-gas scheme outrages common sense.” The pamphlet warned that blending what today is known as E10 would constitute a raid on Iowa motorists’ pocketbooks. As the campaign progressed, the media began writing articles, perpetuated by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that “farmers would make motorists pay for farm relief.” In essence, with the debate going on today surrounding VEETC (the blender’s credit) and other ethanol incentives, the anti-ethanol movement is still attacking farmers and telling American drivers they are subsidizing American farmers.

Another interesting element of the book was to learn about the continual rise and falls of ethanol. With those rise and falls, the industry enthused optimism about how much fuel they would produce using what types of feedstocks. Researchers have had high hopes for aquaculture (kelp, algae, etc.) for more than 40 years. They have also been researching the potential for biomass. Needless to say, none of the optimism has come to fruition, but I do believe that now more than ever, the industry is truly on a breakthrough with advanced biofuels.

I believe that the industry needs to go back and read this book. Not for the science per say, but for the history of ethanol. The industry is fighting a very difficult battle and will learn a great deal from this book. If anything, you’ll take away what has worked and not worked in ethanol’s public communication battles.

Book Review – The Frugal Superpower

This week I read the book “The Frugal Superpower,” by Michael Mandelbaum. For much of the beginning, I couldn’t quite figure out what this book had to do with energy. But I kept on going and was rewarded by some true insights as to other good reasons why reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil can help our country out of some if its current mess.

In the book, Mandelbaum takes on the challenge of laying out why America’s expansive foreign policy is coming to an end and the consequences of such an action. Let’s face it, America needs to tighten it’s purse strings – the country has phenomenal deficits, is still trying to recover from a financial crash and its entitlement programs such as Social Security, are running out of money. So what should go by the wayside? America’s underwriting of global security that dates back to the 1940s.

Mandelbaum is not naive to what could happen when the U.S. stops fighting the wars of others, but he is also very aware of what will happen if the U.S. continues to fight all the wars of others. It will put our “Superpower” status in more jeopardy. Whereas realigning our foreign policy could actually strengthen our position.

The war in Iraq is over oil – a commodity that our country cannot live without.

Mandelbaum writes, “Because the United States accounts for so much of the world’s oil usage, a major reduction in American consumption could lower overall consumption enough to reduce the global price of the commodity. This would decrease the money accruing to the governments that depend heavily, in some cases almost exclusively, on the sale of oil to finance their operations. Iran is one such country. The sale of oil account for 80 percent of its annual revenue. Reducing the income of the Islamic Republic would give its rulers less money to spend on the policies that threaten the rest of the region and the world….Restricting the stream of Iranian oil revenue would have an even more powerful effect on the regime: It would undermine its internal stability.” Continue reading

Book Review – What Environmentalists Need to Know About Economics

This week I took a stab at learning a little about economics and its role in the various environmental issues including global climate change, air pollution and over fishing. “What Environmentalists Need to Know About Economics,” by Jason Scorse, is a book that, using various economic theories, analyzes the three most important sources of environmental problems: market failure, the tragedy of the commons, and the underprovisioning of public goods.

One of the things that I found interesting was that Scorse explained that one of the first principles of free markets is that for them to work effectively, the full costs of an activity must be borne by the involved parties. For example, many types of air and water pollutants exact a significant price on human health and or degrade ecoysytems, but these costs are not factored in the cost of production or at the consumer level. These costs are known as externalities and these lead to market failure. This is a common argument you hear when people talk about the “true cost of oil.”

Scorse notes that if we lived in a world where prices fully captured environmental costs, our entire economies would look vastly different. He writes, “…we would have different modes of transportation, different layouts for our cities and towns, different dietary habits, and consumer goods would likely contain much less toxic material. Prices of environmentally harmful goods would rise and much more R&D would go into alternatives, thereby decreasing their price. In such a world society’s resources would be invested in those things which bring the greatest social value.”

In a section of the book, Scorse discusses in detail how two current proposed U.S. environmentally polices would work: cap and trade or an environmental tax. While people are inherently opposed to either scenario, he does a great job explaining how each scenario would work, the pros and cons, and the possible outcomes of each. I should note that cap and trade is already at work in the utility industry so the mechanism is already in place for cap and trade for GHG emissions, or as I like to call it, crap and raid. Continue reading

Book Review – Why We Hate The Oil Companies

Two, four, six, eight, who do we love to hate? The oil companies!

Despite my story lead, I was not a cheerleader in another life but I couldn’t get that cheer out of my head while I read this week’s book, “Why We Hate The Oil Companies Straight Talk From An Energy Insider,” by John Hofmeister. I recently gave Mr. Hofmeister some ink when he predicted that the country would see $5 per gallon of gas within the next 10 years so I thought, hey, I should read his book. See what’s he’s all about. He is, after all, the former president of Shell Oil Company.

What is Hofmeister all about? Bringing affordable, clean and sustainable energy to all Americans. He writes, “The truth is that affordable energy is essential for American economic growth. It is essential for our national security and position in world leadership. And it is necessary to maintain our quality of life.” He continues by saying affordable energy and environmental sustainability are challenges that require immediate attention.

Who is in charge of leading the way to affordable energy?  The oil and utility companies? Government? American Citizens? The answer is not so black and white as Hofmeister explains. No one believes the oil companies – they are ranked 24 out of 24 in the industry “Who do you trust” poll and the government is ranked at 22. Not swell by any standards. Then we have American citizens who have been fed “information, misinformation and no information” and they are still electing politicians who have spent 40 years not making good energy policy decisions. We Americans have bad voting histories.

So what do we have? Hofmeister says “there is an energy shortage, but there is no shortage of energy.” Continue reading

Joanna’s Best Books of 2010

There are a few things I have learned over the last two years of reviewing books. First, no matter how much you “dislike”, or disagree with an author, you always learn something from him or her  – always. Second, there are always two sides to every story and we all need to do a better job of learning more about both sides.

With those thoughts, now onto the real purpose of this blog: my top books of 2010.

Best Economic Book: The Economics of Food by Patrick Westhoff

Best Environmental Book: Green Gone Wrong by Heather Rogers

Best Energy Book: The End of Energy Obesity by Peter Tertzakian

Best Global Warming Conspiracy Book: Energy & Climate Wars by Peter C. Glover and Michael Economides

Most Fun to Read: No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Best Book of 2010: The Boy who Harnessed the Wind: by William Kamkwanba

If you have an idea for a book that you would like me to review in 2011, please send me an email at Happy Holidays, thanks for reading DomesticFuel and may 2011 bring you much health and happiness.

Book Review – The Impending World Energy Mess

With only two days left in 2010, I thought “The Impending World Energy Mess” was only fitting for review as we head into 2011. It is also fitting for another reason, it ties nicely into the story I brought you earlier this week, $5 Gas Prices on the Horizon. The authors, Dr. Robert L Hirsch, Dr. Roger H. Bezdek, and Robert M. Wendling, bring you decades of experience in energy from economics to oil to technologies. In the book, they lay out their premise that the most serious energy mess facing the world today is the impending decline in world oil production. It just so happens that it is taking place at the same time energy use is all an all-time high and continues to grow.

The authors write, “The warming signs include the six-year long plateauing of world oil production, the escalation of oil prices, and the analyses of a number of highly trained professionals and competent organizations.”

They authors don’t use the term “peak oil” because world oil production, they say, has been and is likely to stay on the current fluctuating world oil production plateau for a few more years before the onset of production decline.

So what’s the problem you ask? We have hoards of alternatives? According to the authors, the realities of these alternatives are that they are “very costly and insufficient to satisfy our overall energy needs, let alone our liquid fuel needs.” The energy sources they discuss are numerous including biofuels, solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas, hydrogen, electric vehicles, oil shale, coal to liquids, and more. But let’s delve into this deeper using biofuels, more specifically, corn ethanol as an example. Continue reading

Book Review – The Burning Wire

Ecoterror has made it into mainstream fiction. OK, so its been there for a while but it made it into the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Deaver. (I know it’s a shocker, but I actually read for fun too). His latest book, the Burning Wire, focuses around an ecoterrorist who uses electricity from an East Coast utility company called Algonquin to kill people because he believes he is dying from leukemia caused from the electricity he works around each day.

Weaved throughout the book is the message of renewable energy. One of the sub-characters in the book, who is tasked with helping the crime scene investigators, is the genius from Algonquin who is tasked with working on renewable energy projects for the company. Ironically, the company’s CEO, Andi Jessen, is against renewable energy so while you read, you are unwittingly exposed the pros and cons of renewable energy or continuing down the path of the status quo.

In one scene of the book Jessen says, “Sure, the renewables will be growing but very, very slowly. For the next hundred years, they’ll be a drop in the bucket of juice, if I can quote myself.” The president was growing even angrier. “The start-up costs are obscene, the gadgets to create the juice are ridiculously expensive and unreliable, and since the generators’re usually located away from major load centers, transportation is another huge cost. Take solar farms. The wave of the future right? Do you know they’re one of the biggest users of water in the power business? And where are they located? Where there’s the most sun and therefore the least water.”

I have to give some kudos to Deaver and commend him on his research into the power grid. From what I’ve learned over the past year and how the smart grid is changing the game and how renewables are also changing the game, it seemed like Deaver really created some eerily real scenarios for murder by electricity. I just hope that people don’t take his “insights” into energy as “truths” and continue to explore the pros and cons of renewable energy outside of fiction.

He also has some amazingly in-depth characters. From his hero – the quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme whom some may remember from The Bone Collector – to his partner in the sense of both professional and personal Amanda Sachs, and all the supporting characters, he has created both a winning book as well as a winning series.

So if you’re looking for a last minute gift for the energy enthusiast, book loving friend or family member, definitely add this one to your gift list.

Book Review – Energy And Climate Wars

The debate about climate change change is over right? Wrong. At least according to authors Peter C. Glover and Michael J. Economides in their book, “Energy and Climate Wars.” The premise of the book is that politicians (aka Al Gore) green ideologues and media elites (What, me? Oh, I’m not a media elite.) are undermining the truth about energy and the climate and that is, well, to put it simply, is that it is not man made and carbon dioxide is not killing us quickly, or even slowly for that matter. It’s a hoax. A farce. A well orchestrated campaign designed to make a few rich in the new “carbon” or for some “clean/green economy” billionaires.

Now before you start clicking the button to post a comment, these are the views of the authors, not me. With that reminder, let me regale you with the overarching premise of the book. According to the authors, the book was written to give the reader a grasp on “the power politics of energy” or more specifically on the social ideology that increasingly influences and impacts you.

What is real, they say, is the threat on your energy security, but not for the reasons you believe (we’re running out of oil/peak oil, or that alternative energies will substitute for ‘dirty’ hydrocarbons). The REAL threats to your energy security are numerous one being alternative energy. In other words, our lifestyle as we know it (military, cars, homes, gadgets, etc.) is predicated on energy, energy that grew out of the Industrial Revolution. If we scale back on fossil-fuel based energy sources, oil, coal, natural gas, we are going to lose our way of life, our military will suffer, and ultimately, our energy security will be at risk.

The authors write, “Now let’s be clear before we go any further. Nobody is against research into new energy technologies, or demurs from the small-scale, purely supportive value of renewable energy sources from wind power (it may help keep your out-house lit) to solar power (expensive but it might give you hot or tepid bathwater) to geothermal use (maybe, but only in really cold countries). The problem is not the pin-prick, ad hoc uses to which they may be put, but the harnessing of larger projects on a commercially viable basis. On an industrial scale, they amount to nothing more than incredibly uneconomic business propositions that require the constant lifeline of government intervention and tax subsidy. The stark reality is that current technology offers no realistic replacing hydrocarbons for decades to come, if ever.” (All emphasis are those of the authors.)

Energy and Climate Wars reads a little like a Michael Crichton book (scientific thriller) dropped into the the plot of a John Le Carré global spy thriller, mixed with controversy of WikiLeaks adapted for the screen by the producer of the movie Wag the Dog.

If you question the whole global climate change movement, then you should consider reading this book. If you are one who believes that global climate change exists and that these two are the “alarmists” distracting us from the real crisis, you might want to read this book to. Why? It’s always easier to fight your enemies if you have their playbooks. Well, for the rest of you, consider a less controversial read…this one may give the weak of heart a stroke.