Archive for August, 2008

In response to my post about his 20-mile claim, Michael Willoughby at Building has responded extensively in the comments – definitely worth a read. The carbon effectiveness of biomass is quite a hot topic so if you’ve got comments or information, please get stuck in.

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battle of the brands

Phil was musing about whether his blogging activities might undermine his employer’s brand. On the topic of brand erosion, I’d like to point out that Bill Price, one of the Directors at engineers WSP, plays bass in a band called Wild Sex Party. Relatively speaking, I think you’re in the clear Phil – write whatever the hell you like.

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There’s a short video on the Building website of Phil Clark and Michael Willoughby discussing biomass. At one point Michael claims “it’s not efficient to transport biomass more than 20 miles.” Holy smokes, where does this fact come from? I took a stab at the numbers and came up with a figure of 3000km (1900 miles) by truck before you lose the carbon benefit. That’s 100 times more than Michael’s figure. Looks like one of us (or possibly both) has got it wrong.

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Excellent article, via Bealers, from the Daily Mash.

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adam smith

I’ve been listening to the excellent Radio 4 series, Our Food Our Future, over the past two weeks. In episode one they interview Alan Swinbank, an economist from University of Reading, who argues that following the current spike, food prices will resume their general downward trend.

In support of his argument, he pulls out the increasingly tired chestnuts:

1. Higher prices drive innovation
2. Technology can achieve whatever advances are required in order to support continued growth
3. Don’t worry if we don’t know what the solution is yet: the next technology may be unforeseen
4. Liberalisation of trade will ensure most effective sharing of the resulting benefits

Here the economist is talking about food but he’s using the same arguments you often hear from his brethren about energy, particularly in the context of fossil fuels: the market will fix it. It seems to be the warm fluffy blanket that they wrap themselves up in at night. And you’ve got to admit, it’s a seductive fluffy blanket.

But I’m uneasy about economists’ faith in market magic. It seems inevitable that the worlds of compound growth and finite resources are doomed to collide sooner or later (read: sooner; or even: as we speak). Sure, as limited fossil fuels become even more costly, other technologies will become more attractive. But Adam Smith didn’t reckon on the sticking power of entrenched energy interests.

I think I might convert to Economicism. Do I get to wear a funny hat?

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On a project at Fontenergy we’re looking at some small scale gasifiers that claim to have overcome the traditional problems associated with wood gasification. While doing some research I came across this manual from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US, with detailed instructions of how to convert your car, truck, or tractor to run on wood gas in the event of extended petroleum shortages. The practice of using wood gas in internal combustion engines was very common in Europe during the Second World War (apparently 95% of mobile farm machinery in Denmark ran on wood gas – I love Denmark) and this guide is aimed at preserving that knowledge.

I’m taking a sickie, grabbing the tool box and heading for the garage.

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