Biodiesel Basics and Beyond by William Kemp

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Title: Biodiesel Basics and Beyond: A Comprehensive Guide to Production and Use for the Home and Farm
Author: William H. Kemp
Publisher: Aztext Press Apr 2006
Paperback: 300 pages
Rating: two (of five) thumbs up

In all fairness, the customer reviews on Amazon Books are all raves, with this book getting four and a half stars out of five, and my rating is significantly below that. He does have a lot of good information in his book, my objections are more about his presentation style and safety than the technical information it contains.

Mr. Kemp has produced one of the thickest books around discussing how to make biodiesel at home. The book has 300 pages and is nearly two inches thick. With a book that thick it's got to have some good information in it. Like most biodiesel books, the first half is dedicated to the "Pitch" or attempting to sell the idea of biodiesel as our environmental and political savior. I pretty much skimmed that section. His technical information in more in depth than any of the other homebrew guides and includes very detailed equipment plans. He has a wealth of positive technical information to present and actually does a good job of presenting that positive technical information.

Now for the reason why my rating is different from everyone else's. I have two reasons. The first is that he is an Engineer with experience managing engineers who repeatedly references commercial production methods and techniques, but completely misses both the legal and pragmatic sides to the safety issue. As an Engineer practicing in Canada, he should know that much of a biodiesel production area is classified as a Class II hazardous area and the legally acceptable fire and electrical safety practices are laid out in painful detail in the Canadian Electrical and Fire Codes. The Codes are a complex set of rules that takes years of experience to master. As a manager of engineers he should have at least been aware of the Codes. The equipment in his book misses the fundamental intent of the Code and wouldn't come close to passing the code inspectors scrutiny. There are ways to meet the intent if not the letter of the codes with a home brew operation, and I would have expected such an experienced engineer to at least make an attempt at it.

From a pragmatic perspective, he again misses the boat. He places his biodiesel production area in a garage used to store cars, tools and other stuff. Biodiesel equipment has this tendency to catch on fire and destroy the structure it's housed in. Pragmatically, his biodiesel shed should be dedicated to just biodiesel and cheap enough to be disposable. Most insurance will be reluctant, if not completely refuse to pay for fire damages if there was a biodiesel processor in the structure. The practical side of safety is brew in a disposable shed, keep stored WVO, biodiesel and methanol to a minimum, keep your production area clean, put a cutoff timer on your electrical supply, and keep wood and plastic to a minimum.

My second reason for rating his book differently than what is found on Amazon, is his literary style. He interviews about a half a dozen people as case studies in his book. He obviously is friendly to them at the time of the interviews since they open up and go out of their way to help him understand how they make biodiesel. Then when he sits down to his typewriter, he spends a great deal of time telling the reader how wrong these guys are, to the point of slander. He completely misses the idea that quality standards are mandatory for commercial concerns, but voluntary for the home brewer. When you make your own biodiesel, you make it to your own personal standard. If you want to make and use unwashed biodiesel, it's up to you. Kemp had a great deal of positive material in his book. He spoils the book for me by needlessly going negative and ruthlessly attacking the home brewers that went out of their way to help him out. He could have stuck to anonymous "myth busting", but he chose to go on the attack.

To summarize, Mr. Kemp has a generally well liked book with a lot of really good positive detailed technical information in his book that could be useful to any home brewer, but he spoils the book for me by missing the boat on safety and by attacking the people very people that went out of their way to help him.

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