“Back & Forth” features running commentary on industry activities bySupply House Timesstaffers and contributors.

Dan Holohan

Dan:So, Jim, I wanted to get your thoughts on all these alternative fuels that are showing up in this new age of ours. It's not just oil and gas anymore. Folks are burning more wood, and we're even burning our food. Bio-fuel, they call it. What's next?

Jim:There's also garbage, human waste, and much more. I recently came across an item from the UK where a commercial building is processing heat from a nearby crematorium, the ultimate in recycling. The possibilities are endless.

The issue always boils down to economics. For decades I've been reading articles, and even written a few, about dazzling new technologies that extract energy from ocean waves, temperature gradients in the sea, hot rocks below and so on. So much potential exists out there for environmentally friendly energy, but the almighty buck intrudes on reality. Developing these resources usually proves uneconomical compared with the fossil fuels we know so well.

What we need is for all those whining environmental activists to turn in their law degrees, and go back to school to study engineering so they can turn their idealism into something useful.  

Dan:I was recently in Iceland, where they drill a hole in the ground and come up with tap water that can remove your skin. It's 180 degrees with no warnings on any of the showers, Jim. Those crazy people expect their citizens and their visitors to have common sense. It's ridiculous. We should send them some of our lawyers.

Oh, by the way, there's a crematorium in the UK that's now heating a public swimming pool. It even won a Green award. This could redefine duel-fuel boilers. Talk about going out with a splash!  

Jim:I find heat from dead bodies rather creepy in a Soylent Green kind of way. But can't argue that it makes efficient use out of resources.

When it comes to alternative energy, sometimes I want to scream, "Be careful what you wish for. The gods may grant it!"

That's because some of the most eco-friendly power sources aren't so benign under closer examination. For instance, wind energy raises hair on the neck of the Audubon Society and bluebloods who don't like windmills blocking their pristine views. Solar cell production leaves a residue of sludge made from a nasty chemical called gallium arsenide. It's manageable now, but if solar power ever starts to take over the world the way its proponents want, we'd be knee deep in the stuff. I also wonder what unintended consequence for oceanic ecology might occur if we ever started to harness ocean currents and waves in a big way to produce energy.   

Dan:I read where they're going to paint the wind turbines purple because mosquitoes don't like that color. The bats eat the mosquitoes (which is fine by me), but then get batted by the turbine blades. I wonder how they figured out what colors mosquitoes like and don't like. As for the Audubon folks, tons more birds die while flying into mirrored windows on buildings than die by turbine blades, so let's ban buildings, oh, and cats. Cats kill millions of birds each year. It's so unnatural!

Jim, did you hear that the GM Orion Assembly Plant in Lake Orion, MI, will now be getting 40% of its power by burning the gas collected from a nearby landfill? I hope that's no reflection on the cars they make.  

Jim:Didn't hear about the GM plant. Nice touch.

I wonder if anyone is working to harness sewer gas? Lots of that stuff around, and with the world population increasing ... jeez, I just lost my appetite for the apple I was eating.  

Dan:Holy poop! I'm glad you mentioned that. A story came out of Paris last April. They're doing this in a primary school. They put a heat exchanger into the poop flow and are collecting the heat from that, as well as any hot water going down the drains, and transferring the PeeTUs to their radiator system. How 'bout them Frenchies!

But getting back to Aunt Astrid and Uncle Wilhelm heating the homes of Europe. I think it's a lovely last gift to give to the community. In Sweden, they're also solving their surplus-rabbit problem by collecting and burning them, and using that reclaimed heat in their district-heating system. Hey, how many Btus in a bunny?

Jim:Bugs B. and progeny sound like the ultimate in renewable energy.