[Gasification] The Enigma of Gasification

jim mason jim at allpowerlabs.org
Sat Jan 1 23:04:59 CST 2011

On Sat, Jan 1, 2011 at 2:28 AM, doug.williams
<Doug.Williams at orcon.net.nz> wrote:
> Hi Colleagues,
> Am I a pricker of delusional balloons, or
> just another failed wana-be, out to spoil others aspirations?
>  From my perspective, I wasted 23
> years facilitating other peoples dreams, and won the Booby prize of
> gasification experience, plus another 12 years of waiting for energy experts
> predictions to come true.
> What then, is there to offer future generations about gasification? Teach
> them to do it better, faster, and cleaner, cheaper, is that the best on
> offer for our expertise acquired at such great expense of time and money?
> My obligations to gasification continue for another two years, in which
> time, my associates will have completed a very demanding five year
> apprenticeship in the black art of gasification. Will their efforts be ready
> for 2015 when the next oil crunch comes, or is the carrot on the stick
> always going to remain the same? Who really cares anyway?
> I'd hate to think that the time will come when gasifier commercials implore
> us to buy now, but wait, ring now and get a second free,etc,etc, but I jest
> don't I?

doug, this has to be the most depressing note you've ever written to
the list.  i hope you do not in fact feel your efforts have been such
a waste, nor find the future to be so dim.

you must in truth realize that you are one of the very few reasons any
of this exists currently.  you are one of the three legs of the table
(the two toms being the other two), that made it possible for us to
even be here debating things.  it was largely you three that carried
this proposition through two decades when no one really cared, or
didn't see why it was important, nor what it might do in time.  this
is broadly acknowledged and i hope you find some satisfaction in this.

you were also my first teacher on this list.  then tom reed was
through his books.  that in later years i have come to disagree with
you on some tech particulars is a rather minor part of the story arc.
i hope you can keep these disagreements in context.  they should be
opportunities for learning and progress.  all of us here owe you a
tremendous debt and acknowledgment and say so regularly.

now that the world seems to be caring again about this tech, and we
have a major new tool in the garage to make it work (the web), i hope
you will enjoy some of what you have worked so hard for and
contributed so much to make possible.  there are no end of projects
that need doing.

while doing so, i hope you will also consider resisting the veiled and
not so veiled suggestions that this particular one of your students is
somehow proceeding with dishonesty.  this has been a theme from you
for about two years now, and frankly, i'm tired of it.

it would be difficult for me and our group to be doing this in any
more open and exposed manner.  all our work is up online for all to
consider and critique.  it is exhaustively documented in hard data,
and any hand waving labelled as such.  we have regular open workshops
at our facility with large numbers of people who review all the
details and see all the warts.  between the workshops people walk
through regularly to see and consider.  our successes and failures are
very public, and for most this has led to feeling of transparency and
honesty in the endeavor not found elsewhere.  i'm not sure how to
create any more intimate opportunities for others to kick the tires
and see if things hold air.

if you continue to find things otherwise, you are again invited to
come see things for yourself during one of your california visits.
same for greg, who is likely the biggest enthusiast of contrary
suggestions at the moment.  you both have been invited multiple times
to our facility.  you both continue to be invited.  the next workshop,
again with some form of long duration gasifier-genset run, will happen
late feb most likely.  yes, the regular writing of grumpy and
pessimistic notes is more enjoyable, but i do not find it to equal
increased honesty.  i just find it sad.

it has been a very interesting process going from prototypes to demos
to pr to having a good deal of machines out in the world.  things
change rather significantly once one's machines are out of the shop
and in the hands of others.  you can no longer make sure they are used
"correctly", and you can no longer control the messaging that happens
around them.  people do stranger things than one could ever imagine.
odd stories get told that bear little resemblance to what you said,
intended, or in fact did.

dealing with the general public can easily insult any optimism one
might have left regarding the human animal.  but fortunately the
opposite is also true.  for me gasification has been a fabulous filter
to find interesting people around the world.  many of the most
interesting ones show up regularly at our place.  for this i feel very
fortunate and have much gratitude.

at the same time, i am often baffled by the suspicion of progress,
resistance to science, and borderline ludditism one finds around wood
gas discussions.  in many instances, right here.  if we really can do
no better than what was done in 1906, why are any of us even
bothering?  defending such a position seems absurd to me.

progress is clearly possible.  small scale gasification is likely even
a solvable problem.  i'm highly confident we all can and will.

all here can participate in and benefit from the emerging solutions.
it can be a shared and collaborative endeavor, rewarding all here who
have co-taught each other.   the pie is massive.  there is no zero sum

thus i disagree with the across the board pessimism of your note and
counter with optimism.  it is an optimism i find supported by current
evidence and experience.

a grateful student,


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