Energizing Our Future Review

Energizing Our Future Review

Author: M. Scheffer


Energizing Our Future: Rational Choices for the 21st Century

J. Wilson, G. Burgh
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, USA, 2008, pp. 390
Print ISBN: 978-357-30740-0

According to the preface the authors’ aim is to “develop a deeper understanding of these energy choices” by providing facts – better facts than published in popular press, etc. in order to “overcome junk facts published in media without scientific knowledge to differentiate fact from fiction”.

The book is organized into two parts. The first section, 155 pages, is dedicated to what the authors call a “Trilogy of Popular Misconception”. Here the authors’ concerns and doubts about global warming, the hydrogen economy and nuclear energy and the Plutonium economy are described and discussed in detail. In a brave move the authors doubt that the human impact on global warming is as big as we are all used to believe in. Their arguments are supported by scientific data and their conclusions are reasonable and comprehensible. Based on the presented data the authors come to the conclusion that “carbon dioxide is simply not the dominant player in global warming”. Considering the authors’ intention and their conclusions it remains unclear why this phenomenon is discussed in such detail in this book. If global warming is just a natural phenomenon, why do the authors waste so much space in this book to this topic? If it is not caused by humans but rather mainly caused by the rise in the concentration of water in the atmosphere potentially supported by an increase in solar irradiance during the last 150 to 200 years, okay, then there is nothing to say about it as we can not control it. The same question arises from the following two chapters, in which the authors present facts on the hydrogen and plutonium economy. Based on their analysis none of the two technologies are viable solutions to the expectable energy problems we will be facing as soon as we run out of conventional fuels, because of huge technical problems or the limited supply of raw materials.

In part two, (130 pages, 7 chapters) the authors introduce conventional oil and oil reserves, coal and bituminous reserves, biomass and ethanol, methanol, diesel and bio-diesel, solar energy, and fuel cells as their rational choices for future energy supply. One may ask why diesel is not part of the chapter on oil or why bio-diesel is separated from biomass, why ethanol is not included in the biomass chapter and so forth. The answer is easy, because all of these choices are taken into account, evaluated and described mainly because of their ability to function as energy source of internal combustion engines. The authors discuss in seven chapters their “rational energy choices” in varying detail and comprehension. In these seven chapters a variety of aspects, like, i.e., existing sources, infrastructure, energy efficiency, technical and financial issues, feasibility and the potential environmental influences the respective rational choice might have in detail, but unfortunately not always by the same method of description. In order to make reading and understanding easier it would have been helpful to arrange each of the seven chapters in an at least similar structure and to summarize key data in an additional chapter that gives a survey on the issues involved. Unfortunately, the seven chapters speak only for themselves. Any attempt in trying to make direct comparisons between two suggested “rational choices” is sometimes not easy and may be impossible for readers who are not yet an expert but an interested coeval.

Finally, the book offers two appendices, 88 pages, which includes “FAQ’s on energy and hydrogen” and “Terms and definitions”. The FAQs in the appendix 1 resemble a kind of repetition of the facts, opinions, and conclusions from chapter two of part one, while the terms and definition are obviously extracted from an external source and a link to a corresponding website or a reference might have been sufficient, as websites are used over and over again throughout the book.

The book is written through the eyes of US-American authors. It is concerned mainly with energy choices for the USA and possibly Canada. It does not offer any view on a more global scale, as it is for instance found in G. Olah’s et al. book “Beyond Oil and Gas” (G. A. Olah, A. Goeppert, G. K. S. Prakash, Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2006) on the methanol economy. The book is concerned about securing future energy supplies to the USA and keeping the USA independent from external supplies. It lacks any outside US view, except for achievements of the German automobile industry in optimizing the diesel engine further over the last decades. Not keeping an eye on the global scale of the problems is a major failure of this book.

It is a somewhat conservative book, as only “popular” US energy choices are included and discussed, others, like i.e. geothermal, hydroelectric power generation, wind energy, cogeneration, combined heat and power cycles, or the use of block-type thermal power stations, are simply not touched at all. Also the book neglects concepts of saving energy by reducing consumption in the USA and, of course, the rest of the world, too. Not a single word is donated to the huge potential of the savings on energy consumption. Despite the fact that the authors do not cover this topic, mobility is not the only energy consuming action of our everyday life. Heating our homes, cooking our meals and running an ever increasing number of electrical appliances, including computers and their peripherals, cell phones, GPS systems, air conditioners, TV sets, etc., are important as well in this regard and need to be considered, too. Furthermore, the book is still very much focused on centralized energy supply offered by big companies in the future as it is done today. This might be part of today’s misconception in finding answers to the upcoming energy supply problems.

A book, which was written in order to provide reliable data and insights for a more general public should have also been written in a way that makes understanding and comparing easier. Using a vast variety of units throughout the entire book does not help the reader to obtain a deeper knowledge. It is sometimes quite confusing to find four different units for pressure on a single page (i.e. see page 81) or amusing to see units like MKJ for mega-kilo Joules. The use of SI units would have been helpful in this regard and is recommended for future editions. Additionally, the authors should have paid more attention to other details, like correct and verifiable chemical equations, etc. It is questionable, if the goal of the book can be reached, if even fundamental chemical equations, like the one of the photosynthesis on page 31 are not really correct. Describing methanol with a formula like CH4O is at least confusing. In order to make reading the book easier also the use of some colored figures and diagrams would have been helpful. Examples include figures 1 on page xiv; 1.7 on page 26; 3.17 on page 153, and 5.2 on page 187. Also the correct numbering of tables and figures throughout the book offers some potential for improvements. In addition to this a consistent way of citation would be helpful as well. To cite Google queries or websites is neither convenient nor very reliable over time, as the contents of websites may change without notice to the authors or readers. In this regard it would be better to cite doi’s or wherever possible the original paper, report, or book.

This book is in marked contrast to what is currently well established public “knowledge” about our choices for energy in the future. It is therefore worthwhile to be read by people who are already familiar with the topic, as it opens up the horizon and presents a lot of deeper insights. Nevertheless, it is not clear, if it will be a recommendable source for less informed readers. Future editions need some in depth review to avoid inconsistency and other negligence that makes it sometimes hard to follow the for sure intriguing thought and advises of the authors.

Matthias Scheffer,
Zug, Switzerland.

published in Clean 2008, 36 (9), 727-728.



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