Jock Gill on energy, information, technology, networks, markets, and society (part 1)

Here is the first part of a two-part interview with Jock Gill, whom I can only partly describe as a technologist, philosopher, humanist, media hacker, and alternative energy entrepeneur. We met in a wonderfully serendipitous way. I was on a bicycle tour through the White Mountain National Forest last month, staying overnight with a friend of a friend, when the subject of pellet heat arose — as it frequently does nowadays in New England. My friend’s friend showed me this article about an entrepeneur who’s exploring the conversion of grass into fuel. But not liquid fuel for transportation. Rather, solid fuel for thermal applications, mainly heating (in the near term) but also potentially local power production. His name sounded familiar. Jock Gill? Where had I heard that before?

When I invited Jock to do this interview, I learned there were a couple of possible connections. During the early Internet years, he was director of special projects in the Office of Media Affairs at The White House. I had probably heard about that.

Going back a bit further, though, we discovered that we were both at Lotus Development Corp. at end of 1980s, by way of two separate acquisitions. He arrived with BlueFish, a company that did indexing and search. I arrived with Datext, a company that aggregated business information. We worked in the same division and it seems we must have met at some point, but perhaps not. Funny how that goes.

Anyway, twenty years on we connected for a fascinating conversation. It begins with grass as a potential source of solid-fuel biomass. Jock then expands to consider micro combined heat and power (MicroCHP). He ties that to decentralization, relocalization, and peer-to-peer resource sharing. He reminds us that while Al Gore did not invent the Internet he did presciently advocate the electranet. And in general, he connects the dots with respect to information, energy, technology, networks, markets, and society.

2 Comments

  1. England was fast using up its forests for creating these

    products, and potash became a valued export for the American

    colonists.

    Pearlash (Pure Ash) was another matter, made by manufacturers

    using kilns that burned off all impurities, they were left with

    pure sodium hydroxide. There was a global demand for the New

    World product.

    By the 1770’s England was so deforested due to

    industrialization, they couldn’t make soda for soap making

    without imports. Pearlash, or pure potash, was a product

    England needed so badly it restricted the colony’s export of

    all New World Pearlash to English buyers.

    Potash-making became a major industry in British North America.

    Great Britain was always the most important market. The

    American potash industry followed the woodsman’s ax across the

    country. After about 1820, New York replaced New England as the

    most important source; by 1840 the center was in Ohio. Potash

    production was always a by-product industry, following from the

    need to clear land for agriculture.

    By 1850, potash had gained popularity as a fertilizer, but

    forests available for indiscriminate burning were becoming ever

    scarcer

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