Greg Pahl’s New Book

I must say I was startled to see the arrival of Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy.

Greg Pahl's New Book Apparently Greg Pahl had consulted some of the lists, but the lists I frequent responded to the news of his new book with comments like “Who is Greg Pahl?”

Kumar promised to review it in Fueled for Thought, and while I have been waiting for his thoughts, I just finished the book this morning, and thought I would try my hand at being a book reviewer.

I should say at the outset that in January I submitted a manuscript on biodiesel that is scheduled for publication next fall. My book is largely a chronicle of Piedmont Biofuels, and the folks we have met along the way, told from the same point of view as this blog.

When I saw that Greg Pahl had beat me to the bookstore, I had a momentary flash of panic. At first I was afraid to read it, since I still have time to edit my manuscript. I didn’t want to jinx my book, or find myself unduly influenced by Mr. Pahl. My publisher told me to relax, and to go buy a copy. I did that. In fact my copy circulated freely on the train to the NBB. I thought it was lost at one point, and bought another copy from the NBB bookstore.

The book is published by Chelsea Green Publishing, which is a credible and authentic press that focuses on “the politics and practice of sustainable living.” A post card marketing piece in the NBB binder referred to Pahl’s “essential new book,” and I think that is an apt description.

Everyone should buy a copy of this book.

He starts off with a wonderful tale of the mysterious disappearance of Rudolph Diesel, and then wades into the history of vegetable oil as a fuel choice. The book is journalistic, not dry and academic, but delightful to read. I found myself refreshed by his objective point of view.

He tackles biodiesel around the world, and goes at it from a variety of angles. He’s got the fear thing, “the end of oil is now” going, and does a good job on the history of research, and trials, and breakthroughs along the way.

It struck me that Greg Pahl had to interview a ton of people for this book, and it seems that he did a good job of bird-dogging down the experts. As a result, it is not told from personal experience. If he has cleaned dozens of 55 gallon drums, he doesn’t let that show. When he approaches fuel gelling issues for instance, it is from a factual distance, rather than from someone who has slammed to a halt at the side of the road while insisting on running B100 on a frigid day.

I couldn’t tell if he was a wrench turner or an academic. If he’s made his own fuel, he doesn’t cover the experience. There is no picture of him in the book, so you can’t tell by his fingernails.

The book is optimistic, and encouraging, and positive, and I liked it a lot. I would not call it a “critical” look at biodiesel, since he is quick to quote any NBB PR person when he feels the need.

I did hear one dedicated backyarder say, “Tom Leue is the only guy in the whole book with a bucket” and that is a legitimate gripe. But it’s not a book on backyard biodiesel√≥it’s about the entire industry, and backyarders receive scant attention. He does mention the tensions between the B100 Community and members of the NBB, but again, it is done as a distant observer√≥not from an author with a dog in the fight.

Let’s say Greg Pahl is a goalie on the hockey team. He is on the ice, in the game, but standing in the net observing. He gets to watch the whole matchup, without necessarily joining any brawls, getting any penalties, or having to make any fantastic saves. I mean this as a compliment. Ken Dryden was both a successful goalie and writer, and I think Greg Pahl pulls this book off in a similar “spectator” sort of way.

I’m glad this book exists, it is a completely different beast from my own, and for anyone who can’t afford 18.00, my two copies will be available at the refinery library by the end of this week.

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2 Responses to Greg Pahl’s New Book

  1. Greg Pahl says:

    Thanks for the nice review. I appreciate it.

    You are correct in your assessment of my being a relatively neutral observer and reporter; it’s a position I tried very hard to maintain throughout the project. Nevertheless, there were parts of the book that the NBB wasn’t too thrilled about, and other parts that homebrew folks weren’t too happy with either. Consequently, I think I managed to (more or less) find the right balance somewhere in the middle, which was my goal.

    The interest in the book so far (from across the country, and even from places like Poland and India) has been enthusiastic.

    I have not made my own biodiesel, but have lugged enough of the half-frozen stuff around in 5-gallon containers to appreciate some of the frustrations experienced by homebrewers (I have been heating my home with a biodiesel blend for the past four years).

    I also have worked (and still do) with a number of small-scale producers here in Vermont in my role as co-director of the Vermont Biofuels Association( As a group, we are trying very hard to develop a biodiesel industry in the state for producers of all sizes and capacities, not just the big guys. This was also a theme that I tried to convey in my book; that there is room at the table for everyone, regardless of the size and scale of their operation.

    Greg Pahl
    author of Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy

  2. Vu An says:

    I am interested in biodiesel, so I want to have more information about biodiesel book. Can you help me to read this book on line about 10 days?

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