REINVENTING FIRE, Bold Business Solutions for the
New Energy Era
By the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins lead author, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011
The title describes the book very well, and the six chapter headings even better: 1) Defossilizing fuels, 2) Transportation: fitter vehicles, smarter use, 3) Buildings: designs for better living, 4) Industry: remaking how we make things, 5) Electricity: repowering prosperity, 6) Many choices, one future. The index is impressive except that not all “alphabet soup” is defined there. I recommend that you keep a glossary of EIS, OBD, VTM and such as you encounter them.
Emphasis throughout the book is that piecemeal solutions to atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulations miss many opportunities for the various pieces enhancing each other in ways that save enormous amounts of effort. For example, seemingly needed increases in the electric power distribution grid cease to be necessary with widely distributed electricity sources such as wind turbines, solar panels, and small natural gas fueled generators replacing many large coal or nuclear power stations. As usual Amory Lovins speaks to business interests with scientific and mathematical insights.
It is not mentioned in the book that CCS (carbon capture and storage) is not a long term solution to accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it buries oxygen with the carbon dioxide ultimately reducing the oxygen content of our atmosphere. However, the book does describe CCS as too expensive compared to other viable alternatives (nuclear power is described similarly). Liquid hydrogen was mentioned as a possible substitute for jet fuel. Again not mentioned, liquid hydrogen stays liquid by evaporation and hydrogen (also helium) is too light to be retained in earth’s atmosphere. However, the amount of hydrogen in the water of rising sea level could fuel jet aircraft for millennia, and the extra oxygen in the atmosphere might replace that lost to CCS---the extra oxygen produced in creating the hydrogen lost by evaporation would accumulate in the atmosphere.
I have known Amory and the Rocky Mountain Institute for about thirty years. This book carries on their tradition of resourceful highly technical and economical solutions to modern problems, and I recommend reading it.
My credentials for writing this review include designing and building a house in Wisconsin in 1987 with an annual heating bill of $120 worth of natural gas--same for wood at $100 a cord. This effort included tracking down krypton (instead of argon because it is heavier) filled thermo-pane windows available from a factory in Canada for only $2 extra per pane doubling the R value of the windows. Incidentally I had inferred in 1961 that xenon (heavier than krypton) would not be available from the atmosphere because it would combine with oxygen during lightning strikes—a fact demonstrated by finding traces of xenon oxide in beach sand in 2011. Xenon was shown to react vigorously with elemental fluorine in 1961; krypton is a trace contaminant of welding argon. All three gases mentioned, along with helium and neon are “noble” gasses so called because they were thought to be chemically Inert until the exceptional behavior of xenon was discovered in 1961.