Review by Keith Addison, Journey to Forever

David Blume's "Alcohol Can Be a Gas! - Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century", Foreword by R. Buckminster Fuller, International Institute for Ecological Agriculture, California, 2007

When David Blume emailed me about reviewing his new book he said:  "It's destined to be considered the bible of small to medium scale alcohol production", and I thought uh-huh, heard that a few times before.

But he could afford to boast: it IS the bible of small to medium scale alcohol production.

Not only that, Blume's managed to give it such sheer sweep that it's become a little difficult to discuss just about any biofuels production in depth, alcohol or other, without taking some account of his book. You might not agree with everything he says, about Peak Oil perhaps, or maybe about subsidies and tax incentives, or the evil antics of "MegaOilron" (Big Oil et al), or maybe vegetarianism. But it's all pertinent - Blume isn't short on opinion, but he isn't short on straight facts either, nor on context and background. He's pushed the whole issue a few steps forward.

Alcohol fuel (ethanol) is supposedly for gasoline engines, not diesels, but if you have a diesel you'll find the book very informative. Informative too if you're a biodieseler, or if you use SVO, or if your interest is biogas, or microturbine cogeneration.

But the main focus is on fuel ethanol as an alternative to gasoline, and with ethanol and other biofuels right in the thick of the raging worldwide row over soaring food prices (and oil prices), largely in the role of scapegoat, Blume's contribution is substantial and timely. Chapter 2 is titled "Busting the myths", and Blume does a good job of it, including the "Food vs fuel" myth, and he gets it right.

The myth-busting doesn't stop there though, the book is peppered with it. For instance, everyone knows you can't run an ordinary car on E-85 fuel (85% ethanol 15% gasoline) without converting the engine first unless it's a special "flexible-fuel vehicle", right? Blume might change your mind about that, in a thorough and detailed treatment of the real options of using alcohol as fuel.

Blume has been working with alcohol fuel for 30 years and he brings a wealth of in-depth information and direct experience to the subject. He wrote the first version of this book in 1983. His account of why it wasn't published then (in spite of a contract) makes a good read, and helps explain his very obvious lack of affection for "MegaOilron", apart from all the usual good reasons (he has those too, it's not just spleen).

This new version of the book is a complete rework and a major expansion of the original. Blume raised $250,000 to finance the project (no corporate funding) and spent four years researching it full-time, working with many other people on the project and travelling extensively for on-the-ground investigations, not only in the US but also in Brazil and India.

The result is a big book, 594 big pages, with loads of photographs, illustrations, diagrams, charts and tables, and packed with information.

Actually it's six books in one. Book 1, "Understanding Alcohol: Visions and Solutions", covers the history and busts the major myths, along with a chapter on the permaculture approach (Blume's an organic farmer, which helps a lot, he makes essential connections that many others fail to see), another chapter on nasties like tarsands, oil shale, nukes and so on, and a whole chapter on developments in Brazil.

Books 2, 3 and 4 cover the nuts and bolts of making alcohol, handling the co-products, and using the fuel - detailed coverage, good information on all aspects of distillation, thorough treatment of feedstocks, good on integrated systems for co-products use, detailed information on engine conversion, including two case-study conversions.

Book 5 is "The Business of Alcohol: Hands-On Advice", Book 6 is "A Vision for the Nation". Plus appendices, a useful 22-page glossary, and, mercifully, a good index (21 pages).

The main focus of the book is on the US but it's not just for Americans, it's for anyone really. There's a lot of it, but it isn't a difficult read, Blume's a clear writer with a breezy style and the advantage of someone who really knows his subject.

Blume describes the book at the beginning as "a complete tool kit to revolutionize our transportation energy system, combining a broad, sweeping vision with intricate detail", and indeed it does that.

He says: "This book is not about providing unlimited clean fuels for SUVs. It's about shaping energy policy now with our own individual and group actions, to make sure the energy future we get is the one we want and not the one the Oilygarchy is planning for us. This book ... puts both the power and the responsibility for implementing the solution in the hands of ordinary people, working together at the local level."

We've been saying things like that here for a long time, haven't we?

And at Journey to Forever.

You'll like David Blume, he's downright good value, IMHO.

Keith Addison

Journey to Forever

KYOTO Pref., Japan

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