Setting the Stage for 2009

I wanted to just have one housekeeping post here at the beginning of the year covering a wide range of topics: From posting etiquette to themes to my internal debate over whether to proceed with a book. So here goes.

First, some reminders about posting etiquette here. While I encourage debate and disagreement, I discourage gratuitous insults and profanity. There are elementary schools that have used some of these essays for current events classes. I don’t want them exposed to the worst of what I have seen here on occasion. So if you keep that in mind, I don’t think we will have any problems. You are free to disagree – even vehemently – and you are free to criticize to your heart’s content. But please keep it civil. Repeated or severe profanity, personal attacks, and blatant advertising are about the only things that will get a comment deleted.

Also, I have started enabling moderation on posts that are over 2 weeks old. What that means is that when you comment on an older post, it won’t show up until I release it. The reason for this is that the older posts attract a lot of spam. Legitimate posts will be released from moderation as quickly as I can get to it.

Second, some themes for the year. One thing I have a lot of trouble with is saying no. I am writing off and on for several other sites, and it spreads me pretty thin. Sometimes I throw up a post here in haste just to provide an anchor for conversation. This year I am dialing those outside writing projects back. I won’t take on any new ones. If the Wall Street Journal calls, I will keep an open mind. 🙂 But I am going to limit my outside writing this year.

Whether I will scale back my posting frequency is another story. I never set out to write 5 posts in 7 days, it just happens. Other times I may write 1 post in 10 days. It all depends on how much extra time I have at that particular moment. I like to rise early and write, which is what I am doing now. It is 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and I am the only one up. I like to write in those instances. I also like to write in the evenings when I am in Europe, and right now it looks like I will continue to make my monthly trips over. The next one is scheduled for this Monday.

I do encourage guest posts on any energy/environmental topic. Over the past couple of years, I have had some really good ones (and admittedly, a few not so good ones). But I am happy to post your viewpoint. Even if it is contrary to the views of most other posters, this blog is for debating energy issues. So I am happy to post contrary views.

Lots of people have written to ask about the status of the book I was approached about writing. I got lots of good feedback from readers on the sort of material that either hasn’t been covered, or hasn’t been covered well. I think the type of book that I would write is sort of a layman’s guide to energy. What are the pros and cons of crude oil? Ethanol? Why is energy so important? That last one seems to obvious, but I think the public is very ignorant about the topic. So I would write aimed at the general public, in as objective a fashion as I could.

BUT, I have decided not to do the project right now for a couple of reasons. First, since I was approached about the book, my organization at work has grown by an additional 20%. I now have seventeen people reporting in to the engineering group, and it takes a lot of time to properly manage that many people. If I attempted to write a book right now, either my job would suffer, my time with my family would suffer, my blog would go on hiatus – or all three would happen. So I have decided to keep the idea in the back of my mind, perhaps organizing some of my essays into chapters over time. But I am going to set this project aside for now. As my CEO recently said to me – “You can write a book when you are 50!”

The other thing is that I am already committed to write another book chapter this year. Professor Emeritus Roger Rowell from the University of Wisconsin has had a book idea accepted for publication, and he has asked me to write the chapter on biofuels and bioenergy from wood. Professor Rowell is an expert on wood chemistry, and has written several books previously. (See here for his book list). This is what my (very) rough draft looks like at this point. I will probably ask for reader input at some point in filling in the gaps.


    1. Burning Biomass for energy
      1. Biomass for steam and electricity
      2. Biomass for cooking and heating
    2. Alcohols
      1. Methanol
      2. Ethanol
      3. Higher alcohols and mixed alcohols
    3. Renewable diesel
    4. Miscellaneous
      1. Bio-oil
      2. Syngas

Finally, I want to say a heartfelt “Thank you” for those of you who comment here. Without you, I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to continue writing. People often tell me that they learn a lot here. Well, I have also learned a lot from people’s comments. This was in fact a big part of why I wanted to start the blog. I felt like I had something to offer, but also felt like this could help fill in some gaps in my energy/environmental knowledge. I have been correct on that, and thanks to various readers I know more about specific categories of energy than I did a couple of years ago.

14 thoughts on “Setting the Stage for 2009”

  1. Robert,
    I’m not certain if and how you are reimbursed for all your writing, but thank you for your efforts to share your knowledge.
    I’m very interested to see your chapter on bioenergy. Specifically the section on bio oils. I’ve been working on an open source 3kW steam engine project that we intend to run on both solar thermal and biomass energy.
    Since this system will use external combustion the boiler will not need a very refined fuel, instead all we are after is a simple way to get energy densification, which it seems pyrolysis oil might offer. Being ignorant on the chemistry side of things I’d be very interested the pitfalls of this fuel and process.

  2. RR-Chalk me up as one who has learned a lot from this blog. I was somewhat “pro-ethanol” when I started perusing, and now I am not, and that is but one example.
    Also, this blog is a rarity in its field as it is open-minded, a true forum.
    And, lastly, my thanks to other posters, who are the smartest, most open-minded group on the web. It is nice to post to a group where people actually want to understand or at least each other’s viewpoint, and not try to destroy or censor the messenger.
    I enjoy reading the righties, the lefties, the greenies, the anti-AGW’ers, the Bushies, the Obamanians. Bring it on, I say.
    May RR keep this blog active for many, many a moon.
    Bring it on, I say. I still say oil will hit $10 somwhere in 2009-10, maybe in the cheapest grade, maybe for a day, but it will.

  3. Re: posting frequency. One thing that some other similar blogs do that I appreciate is to reliably post on a stated schedule: every week on Wednesday, for example.

    Thanks for blogging!

  4. For 4b syngas, I’d like to see something that addressed integrated production processes. That is, while converting your car to run off gas from a gasifier burning wood chips “works”, it’s not the only way to go. It’s also workable to do that for farm equipment and other processing equipment even when that is making yet other biofuels. That sort of intermediate use/integrated process syngas has very different economics to end use approaches, because it can use waste feedstock and it doesn’t face the collection/distribution problems of wood for cars. Plus, of course, it cuts the outside inputs needed for the main outputs, so when you’re making other biofuels you improve the money economics and the EROI (especially if you recycle ash through settling ponds that grow nitrogen fixing pond scum for green manure). Although end use syngas won’t often make sense, with integrated use syngas a lot of its potential biofuel co-products would make sense more often.

  5. From one of the many lurkers who read avidly, and comment rarely … a big thank you for all your efforts!

  6. Modified yeast might deserve its own chapter Robert. LS9 says they’ll produce fuel for $45 per barrel at their production facility when it opens next year. I can see a future where companies like LS9 market small distilleries and the yeast to operate them….for those of us who like to make our own jam.

    Thanks for keeping up the blog…

  7. As an avid reader, and completely non-technical professional in the oil & gas business, I can say this site is indispensable. Please post as often as possible, and thanks.

  8. Thank you for writing this blog !

    I hope your decisions and current events will lead you to more writing here, not less.

    Hope the additional administration does not ever become a burden.


  9. Oil dumping hard today–even with seaborne tankers filling up, to be used as storage. Now, where will they sell all that oil? Where will they even store it?

  10. Robert,

    I read the blog frequently and am trying to catchup on the “back issues” as well. You are inspiring many with your work here. For me personally, you inspired me to read more. I’ve only been reading the RR Energy Blog 2 months, but I already finshed Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Gusher of Lies (and I am 1/3rd of the way through The Singularity is Near).

    I tend to focus on the end game for personal transporation. As a result, I found “Gusher” disturbing. Like your review I did appreciate many aspects of the book, but on the central theme, I see energy independence as difficult in the short term, but HIGHLY desirable in the long term, which I define as 30-50 years.

    I hope you find a good balance between profiting from your knowledge and sharing it openly as you do here.

  11. Looking forward to 2009.
    Some ideas on articles you might consider over the next year:
    – special on solar PV cost per watt metrics. I have some spreadsheets estimating quite a few metrics related to cost per watt.
    -special on cost per kilowatt hour of electricity from natural gas as a ratio of the price of natural gas (inclusive of the cost of transportation)
    -special on carbon sequestration cost per ton of carbon stored underground.

  12. I’ve only been reading the RR Energy Blog 2 months, but I already finshed Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Gusher of Lies (and I am 1/3rd of the way through The Singularity is Near).

    Good books, all. Thanks for the post.

    Cheers, R0bert

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