My rating: 86/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read. If you like my notes, go buy it!
Key principles and facts I’ve taken from this book, ordered relatively by importance:
- There are no strong links between energy usage and personal happiness or well being. Societies that focus on human welfare rather than economy have happier citizens.
- Economic depressions act as a trigger for innovative activity.
- The technical weakness of dominant designs, the high construction costs of nuclear plants and chronic delays in their completion, the unresolved problem of long-term disposal of radioactive wastes, and widespread concerns about operation safety (including, even after 60 years of commercial experiences, some grossly exaggerated claims of possible health impacts) have prevented further rapid growth of the nuclear industry. The West has essentially given up on this clean, carbon-free way to electricity generation.
- The industry’s [photovoltaic] growth has not been a gradual, organic process but a promotion driven by government subsidies.
- The challenges presented by the transition from fossil fuels to renewables are generally insufficiently appreciated.
- The energy cost of energy (often called energy return on investment EROI) for coal is between 10 and 80, oil and gas ranges from 10 to far above 100, large wind turbines may approach 20 but are mostly less than 10, photovoltaic solar cells are no higher than 2, and biofuels at best are 1.5 and often below 1 (net loss).
- The U.S. invasion of Iraq was not because of oil. China is the biggest importer of Iraqi oil, did the U.S. go into Iraq to secure Chinese oil supply?
- Coal generates more CO2 per unit of released energy than any other fossil fuel – the rates are typically more than 30 kg C/GJ for coal, about 20 kg C/GJ for liquid hydrocarbons, and less than 15 kg C/GJ for natural gas – its future in a world concerned about rapid global warming is uncertain.
- Oil is the single most valuable traded commodity.
- The global production of liquid biofuels reached about 75 Mt of oil equivalent in 2015, accounting for about 1.8% of energy extracted annually from crude oil. Scaling this industry to supply a significant share of the world’s liquid biofuels is, bluntly put, delusionary.
- The Mayan population declined from 3 million around 800 CE to just around 100,000 by ~1500 CE.
- Draft animal population in America peaked in 1918 at 26.7 million.
- Most adult men can sustain useful work at 75-120 W.
- Fireplace heating efficiencies were poor, typical performance at just around 5%.
- The efficiency cost of walking increases both below and above the optimum speeds of 5-6 km/h (3.1-3.7 mph).
- When Usain Bolt set the world record for 100m at 9.58 seconds, his maximum power was 2,619.5 W, that is about 3.5 hp.
- The Great Pyramid construction was completed in 15-20 years.
- The often repeated claim that the Romans were the first builders to use concrete is inaccurate. It was technically called lime mortar.
- Every major transition to a new energy source requires significant energy from the old energy source type. For example, the transition from coal to oil required significant inputs of coal energy.
- It is a mistake to think of nineteenth century economic growth primarily due to steam.
- The best large diesel engines rate just above 50%, double the rate for gasoline engines.
- The production of iron is the world’s largest energy consuming industrial sector. Aluminum requires six times the energy of iron; titanium roughly three times aluminum.
- As the population of a city doubles, economic productivity goes up by an average of 130%, with both total and per capita productivity rising.
List of Primary Sources
On my mind recently has been the topic of primary sources. I want to hone my skills of researching and finding accurate resources for information. Rather than relying on the interpretation of others, it seems that the industry experts read reliable, direct sources for information. I hope to join the population of such experts someday, so I need to begin doing as they do. On that note, this book has been a wealth of new resources (the bibliography is 67 pages) , and I put together a short list of them here for my and your reference. Not surprisingly most of them are governmental organizations.
- USBC – U.S. Bureau of Census https://www.census.gov/library/publications.html
- USDA – U.S. Department of Agriculture www.usda.gov
- USDOE – U.S. Department of Energy https://www.energy.gov/
- USDOL – U.S. Department of Labor https://www.dol.gov/ Here you can find statistics such as employment by industry sector over time, unemployment, demographics, consumer spending, productivity, wage trends, and industry statistics. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/statistics
- USEIA – U.S. Energy Information Agency https://www.eia.gov/ Find trends in energy usage in each sector – oil, coal, etc. Imports/Exports, storage and storage capacities, reserves, and up to date pricing. They also provide reports on other countries, such as China: https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/CHN
- USGS – U.S. Geological Survey https://www.usgs.gov/ Information on earthquakes, water, volcanoes, landslides, and the commodities market. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/nmic/commodity-statistics-and-information
- WHO – World Health Organization https://www.who.int/ Life expectancy, road traffic injuries, alcohol usage, diseases, nutrition, violence, and a slew of other health related data. https://www.who.int/data/gho/publications/world-health-statistics
- WNA – World Nuclear Association https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library.aspx Power reactor requirements, generation by country, reactor database, country profiles, economics of nuclear reactors, and reactor types.
- UNDP – United Nations Development Programme https://annualreport.undp.org/ They publish a yearly Human Development Report.
- REN21 – Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, publishes an annual report on the status of renewables. https://annualreport.undp.org/
- OPEC – Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – who gets what from imported oil? www.opec.org They publish a monthly oil market report.
- NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration www.noaa.gov Find trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- J.P. Morgan publishes A Brave New World: Deep Decarbonization of Electricity Grids https://energyforhumanity.org/en/resources/reports-en/brave-new-world-deep-decarbonization-of-electricity-grids/
- IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Take a look at their report Global Warming of 1.5 deg C https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
- IMF – International Monetary Fund – https://www.imf.org/ Find the cost of energy subsidies. https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2015/09/28/04/53/sonew070215a
Chapter 1 Energy and Society
If the planet had been a mere 1% farther from the Sun, virtually all of its water would have been locked in glaciers.
The mastery of fire greatly extended our range of habitation and set us further apart from animals.
Average daily food needs for most moderately active adults is 2-2.7 Mcal, or about 8-11 MJ, and 10 MJ could be supplied by eating 1 kg of whole wheat bread.
Consuming 8 MJ of food a day corresponds to a power rate of 90 W, less than the rating of a standard light bulb (100 W). A double toaster needs 1000 W, or 1 kW; small cars deliver around 50 kW; a large coal-fired or nuclear power plant produces electricity at the rate of 2 GW.
Cities had to draw on nearby areas at least 30 times their size for fuel supply.
Photosynthesis converts less than .5% of incoming solar radiation into new phytomass.
About 9% of energy in natural gas ends up as light, a 90 fold gain since the late 1880s
Among the commonly used materials, aluminum and plastics are highly energy intensive, while glass and paper are relatively cheap, and lumber (excluding its photosynthetic cost) is the least energy intensive widely deployed material.
The energy cost of energy (often called EROI, energy return on investment, although EROEI, energy return on energy investment, would be more correct)
For coal production they range between 10 and 80, while for oil and gas they have ranged from 10 to far above 100; for large wind turbines in the windiest locations they may approach 20 but are mostly less than 10; for photovoltaic solar cells they are no higher than 2; and for modern biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel) they are at best only 1.5, but their production has often entailed an energy loss or no net gain (an EROEI of just .9-1.0).
I will use 2 MJ/day in all approximate calculations of net daily expenditures in foraging, traditional farming, and industrial work.
Chapter 2 Energy in Prehistory
Homo erectus began 1.8 M years ago.
The first Homo sapiens bones are dated at 190,000 years ago.
It was only 10,000 years ago that the first small populations of our species began a sedentary existence based on the domestication of plants and animals.
The first evolutionary departure that eventually led to our species was not a larger brain size or toolmaking but bipedalism, a structurally improbable yet immensely consequential adaptation whose beginnings can be traced as far back as 7M years ago.
After measuring energy expenditure in walking chimpanzees and adult humans, found that human walking costs about 75% less energy than both quadrupedal and bipedal walking in chimpanzees.
The average encephalization quotient (actual/expected brain mass for body weight) is 2-3.5 for primates and early hominins, while for humans is a bit higher than 6.
Increased meat consumption also helps to explain human gains in body mass and height, as well as smaller jaws and teeth.
The date of the oldest known stone toolmaking to about 3.3M years ago.
Earliest date for a well attested use of controlled fire … the fossil record suggests that the consumption of some cooked food took place as early as 1.9 M years ago.
Outstanding rates of human heat dissipation provided a notable evolutionary advantage that served our ancestors well.
Running turned humans into diurnal, high-temperature predators that could chase animals to exhaustion.
My note: Humans can sweat a lot!
There was a widespread hunting preference for large and relatively fatty species.
For some groups the total foraging effort was relatively low, only a few hours a day. This finding led to foragers being portrayed as “the original affluent society,” living in a kind of material plenty filled with leisure and sleep. … This conclusion, based on very limited and dubious evidence, must be – and has been – challenged.
The highest productivities in complex foraging were associated with the exploitation of aquatic resources.
Chapter 3 Traditional Farming
The shift form foraging to farming left a clear physical record in our bones. Examination of skeletal remains from nearly 2,000 individuals in Europe whose lives spanned 33,000 years, revealed a decrease in the bending strength of leg bones as the population shifted to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. This process was complete by about two millennia ago, and there has been no further decline in leg bone strength since then.
Dependence on cereal grains is thus a matter of clear energy advantages.
Genetic mutations increased starch digestion in dogs relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, a crucial step in domesticating the species.
Nearly all traditional societies valued meat highly, and where its consumption was proscribed they resorted either to dairy products (India) or fish (Japan) to consume high-quality animal protein.
As much as one-third or even one-half of medieval grain crops had to be set aside [for seed].
[Rice has] much higher labor requirements than for wheat cultivation.
A typical working day ranged from just five hours for oxen in many African locations to more than ten hours for water buffaloes in Asian rice fields and for horses during European or North American grain harvests.
The combination of large mass and relatively high speed makes horses the best draft animals, but most horses could not work steadily at the rate of one horsepower.
Nailed horse shoes became common only after the ninth century.
The horse has a very powerful suspensory ligament running down the back of the cannon bone and a pair of tendons (superficial and deep digital flexors) that can “lock” the limb without engaging muscles. This allows the animals to rest, even to doze, while standing, with hardly any metabolic cost. All other mammals need about 10% more energy when standing as compared to lying down.
Their useful annual labor was the equivalent of three to five peasants working 300 days a year.
With an average power of 500 W, a horse would do about 11 MJ of useful work during six hours, and while an average male human would contribute less than 2 MJ…
Up to 1,500 t of water are needed to grow 1 t of wheat, and at least 900 t must be supplied for every tonne of rice.
The energy cost of human-powered irrigation was extraordinarily high.
Water ladder treading would return about 30 times more food energy than its food cost.
Nitrogen is the element to be most likely in short supply in continuously cultivated soils.
Continued cropping without fertilization would create nitrogen deficits.
In wooded regions straws and stalks were often simply burned in the field, with a virtually complete nitrogen loss. #waste
by the 1650s virtually all of Edo’s human wastes were recycled.
by the late nineteenth century about half of [Paris’s] excreta was collected and industrially processed to make ammonium sulfate.
It was only between 1750 and 1880 when standard rotations (Norfolk’s four year succession of wheat, turnips, barley, and clover), were widely adopted in Europe and at least tripled the rate of symbiotic nitrogen fixation and secure rising yields of nonleguminous crops.
Egypt Old Kingdom (2705 BCE) New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE)
Nile valley’s population density rising from 1.3 persons/ha of arable land in 2500 BCE to 1.8 people/ha in 1250 BCE and 2.4 people/ha by the time of Rome’s destruction of Carthage (149-146 BCE). During Roman rule, Egypt’s total cultivated land was about 2.7 Mha. This land could produce about 1.5 times as much food as was needed for its nearly five million people. The surplus was a matter of great importance for the prosperity of the expanding Roman Empire: Egypt was its largest grain supplier.
Traditional farming was considerably more innovative than Egyptian agriculture.
The most important innovation from the Han dynasty was the widespread adoption of the cast-iron moldboard plow.
Human powered water lifting was tedious and time consuming, and its energy costs were rather high – but so were the rewards of higher yields. When irrigation supplied additional water to crops during their critical growth periods its net food direct energy return was easily around 30.
Grains supplied about 90% of all food energy, and meat consumption in peasant families was negligible (usually only on festive occasions.)
Molecular analyses indicate the Yucatan Peninsula as the site of cotton’s original demostication, while the gene pool of modern contton cultivars has its origins in southern Mexico and Guatamala.
In one of the most enigmatic turns in world history, the classic Mayan society disintegrated and its population declined from about three million during the eighth century CE to just around 100,000 by the time of the Spanish conquest [~1519 CE].
My thoughts: This is incredible. I knew that the population decline was bad, but this is essentially the complete destruction of an entire culture. What happened? Does anyone have good resources on this?
chinampas – rectangular fields raised up between 1.5 and 1.8 m above the shallow waters [around Teotihuacan]
During the nineteenth century a pair of good horses easily did 25-30% more field work in a day than a team of four oxen.
Times of relative prosperity (most notably 1150-1300, the sixteenth century, and 1750-1800) were marked by extensive conversions of wetlands and forests to fields.
Cobbett (1824) traveling through France in 1823, was astounded to see “women spreading dung with their hands!” and noted that the farming implements used in French fields “seem to be about the same as … used in England a great many years, perhaps a century ago.”
The net energy return of the early nineteenth century Dutch farming was more than 160 fold.
Charles Neubold introduced a cast iron plow in 1797. By the early 1830s improved cast iron plows began to be replaced by steel plows. Production was commercialized by John Deere 1843.
The production of inexpensive steel in Bessemer converters made moldboards readily available. Two and three-wheel plows also became common during the 1860s.
The labor shift that took place in traditional American agriculture during the nineteenth century. At its beginning, a farmer (80W) working in a field was aided by about 800W of draft power (two oxen); by its end, a farmer combining his Californian wheat field had at his disposal 18,000 W (a team of 30 horses) as he became a controller of energy flows and ceased to be an indispensable energizer of farm work.
In 1800 New England farmers needed more than seven minutes to produce a kilogram of wheat, but less than half a minute was needed in California’s Central Valley in 1900, roughly a 20-fold labor productivity gain in a century.
America in 1918 the draft animal herd peaked at 26.7 million.
America’s farm horse herd (working and nonworking animals) required almost 25% of the country’s cultivated land.
Using the best available yield averages, an hour of medieval labor produced no more than 3-4 kg of grain. By 1800 the average rates were around 10 kg. A century later they were close to 40 kg, and the best performances were above 100 kg.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century good Western European harvests returned about 200 times more energy in wheat than they spent on its production. By the century’s end the ratio was commonly above 500, and the best returns were above 2,500.
Typical ratio of human/animal power on the most productive American farms was well above 1:100 during the 1890s
Meat consumption by the poorer half of the English population was barely above 10 kg/yr by the 1860s.
Unfailingly, as soon as societies get richer one of the most notable nutritional shifts is their declining consumption of legumes.
Some famines were so exceptionally devastating that they remained in collective memory for generations and led to major social, economic, and agronomic changes. Notable examples of such events are the frost and drought induced failures of corn harvest in the basin of Mexico between 1450 and 1454, the famous collapse of Phutophthora-infested Irish potato crops between 1845 and 1852 (#diversification), and the great Indian drought-induced famine of 1876-1879.
Later European history is replete with waves of German migrations from densely populated western regions. Armed with superior moldboard plows, they opened up farmlands in areas considered inferior by local peasants in Bohemia, Poland, Romania, and Russia – and set the stage for nationalist conflicts for centuries to come.
Large families were the least energy-intensive way to minimize adult labor and to secure food in old age when infirmities set in.
Chapter 4 Preindustrial Prime Movers and Fuels
In 1900 about 26% of boys aged 10-15 years worked.
The three simplest aids providing mechanical advantage – levers, inclined planes, and pulleys – were used by virtually all old high cultures.
The first wheels were used in Mesopotamia before 3000 BCE.
Curiously, the Americas had no native wheels.
The simple pulley was invented during the eighth century BCE.
Sewing machines first commercial models came during the 1830s but whose widespread use began during the 1850s.
Before 1800, rates converged on the correct maxima of 70-150 W for most adults steadily working for many hours.
Most adult men can sustain useful work at 75-120 W.
Al-Masudi’s report, dated 947, is one of the first reliable records of simple vertical shaft windmills.
The first clear records of European windmills come from the last decades of the twelfth century.
Average wind speed increases roughly with one-seventh the power of height. This means, for example, that it will be about 22% higher 20m above the ground than at a height of 5m.
Pwind = 0.5 * density * A * V^3
density = .12 kg/m^3
Poulder – low lying tract of land enclosed by embankments known as dikes.
US nationwide capacity of windmills rising from about 320 MW in 1849 to nearly 500 MW in 1899 and peaking at 625 MW in 1919.
A typical large eighteenth-century Dutch mill with a 30m span could develop about 7.5kW.
In the U.S., coal and oil surpassed the energy content of fuelwood by 1884. In the most populous nations of Asia it remained dominant until the 1960s or 1970s
Freshly cut mature hardwoods (leafy trees) are typically 30% water, while softwoods (conifers) are well over 40%.
When wood has more than 67% of moisture it will not ignite.
Charcoal .. traditional production was very wasteful … about 60% of the original energy was lost in making charcoal. But the payoff was in the fuel’s quality: its combustion could produce temperature of 900 deg C, and with a supplementary air supply, achieved most efficiently by using bellows, that could be raised to nearly 2000 deg C.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century about 85% of Massachusetts was covered by trees.
The best available reconstruction of firewood demand in medieval London (around 1300) resulted in an annual mean of about 1.75 t of wood, or roughly 30 GJ/capita.
The first use of inanimate power in grain milling – horizontal waterwheels rotating small millstones – is about two millennia old.
In some fuel-short regions there was no winter heating at all despite months of cold weather: there was no heating in the deforested lowlands of Ming and Qing China south of the Yangzi.
The history of cooking shows remarkably few advances until the onset of the industrial era.
Flat breads were stuck to the sides of clay ovens (still the only way to bake proper Indian naan).
In 1798 Benjamin Thompson designed a brick range with top openings for placing the pots and with a cylindrical oven; the range was first adopted by large kitchens.
Well-stoked fireplaces could keep an unattended fire overnight, but their heating efficiencies were poor. The best rates were close to 10% but more typical performances were just around 5%.
At least three space-heating systems used wood and crop residues in ingeniously efficient ways while providing a great degree of comfort. They were the Roman hypocaust, the Korean ondol, and the Chinese kang.
Candles convert only about 0.01% of their chemical energy into light.
Oil rendered from the blubber of sperm whales … reached its peak just before 1850. Coal gas and kerosene led to a rapid decline of the hunt.
The steam engine and cheap cast iron and steel revolutionized transportation as well as contruction.
The efficiency cost of walking increases both below and above the optimum speeds of 5-6 km/h (3.1-3.7 mph).
Running requires power outputs mostly between 700 and 1,400 MW equivalent to 10-20 times the basal metabolic rate.
When Usain Bolt set the world record for 100m at 9.58 seconds, his maximum power was 2,619.5 W, that is about 3.5 hp.
Jockey’s crotch “monkey on a stick”
Pfau and co-workers found that major horse race times and records improved by up to 7% around 1900 when the crouched posture was first adopted.
In relative terms, people were better carriers than animals.
Large stones were quarried, moved, and emplaced by every old high culture. A few ancient images offer firsthand illustrations of how this work was accomplished. Certainly the most impressive one is depicted in an already mentioned Egyptian painting from the tomb of Djehutyhotep at el-Bersheh, dated to 1880 BCE.
By Diocletian’s reign (285-395) the Roman system of trunk roads, the cursus publicus, had grown to some 85,000 km (53,000 m).
Daily range to 50-70 km for passenger horse carts on good roads, 30-40 km for heavier horse drawn wagons, and up to half those distances for oxen.
Messengers on fast horses … maxima on Roman roads are up to 380 km/day.
At the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, London had some 300,000 horses (around 1890).
Rapid improvements came only during the 1880s.
Square sails set at right angles across the ship’s long axis were efficient energy converters only with the wind astern. Roman ships pushed by the northwesterlies could make the Messina-Alexandria run in just 6-8 days, but the return could take 40-70 days.
The gunned ship, developed in Western Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries launched the era of unprecedented long-distance expansion.
The enormous variety of building styles and ornaments can be reduced to only four fundamental structural members: walls, columns, beams, and arches.
Sumerian epic Gilgamesh … from before 2500 BCE.
Wattle and daub – method used for making walls. A woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with sticky wet clay, soil or sand, animals dung, and straw.
Some projects were completed speedily: the Parthenon in just 15 years (447-432 BCE), the Pantheon in just about eight (118-125 BCE), and Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, a high-vaulted Byzantine church later converted into a mosque, in less than five years (527-532).
The Great Pyramid … the beginning of construction to between 2485 and 2475 BCE, and the structure was completed in 15-20 years.
Friction was reduced by a worker pouring water from a vessel. Very large stones were transported on boats.
It is highly unlikely that any construction ramps were used.
To estimate the required labor force: my calculations show that it could have been as low as 10,000 people.
The often repeated claim that the Romans were the first builders to use [concrete] is inaccurate. Concrete is a mixture of cement, aggregates (sand, pebbles), and water, and cement is produced by high-temperature processing of a carefully formulated and finely ground mixture of lime, clay, and metallic oxides in an inclined rotating kiln – and there was no cement in the Roman opus caementicium used to build the Pantheon or in any other building until the 1820s.
The Roman opus caementicium … bonding agent was not cement (as it is in concrete) but lime mortar.
Virtually every sizable Roman town had a well planned water supply.
Lead high pressure pipes could withstand up to 1.82 MPa (263 psi) [in Rome].
For example, the total amount of lead for nine siphons in the Lyon water supply was about 15,000 t.
The first copper uses, datable to the sixth millennium BCE.
Bronze – tin/copper 10/90
Brass – zinc/copper 30/70
The availability of bronze thus brought the first good metallic axes, chisels, knives, and bearings, as well as the first reliable swords, of both cutting and thrusting type.
The first uses of brass date to the first century BCE.
Small iron objects were produced in Mesopotamia during the first half of the third millennium BCE. The extensive use of iron dates only to after 1400 BCE.
Iron smelting was necessarily bound up with the large-scale production of charcoal. Iron melts at 1535 deg C; an unaided charcoal fire can reach 900 deg C, but a forced air supply can raise its temperature close to 2000 deg C.
The high energy requirements of pre-1800 charcoal fueled smelting inevitably caused extensive deforestation around furnace sites.
In the U.S., only the use of coke allowed the country to become the world’s largest producer of pig iron.
Already in 1548 anguished inhabitants of Sussex … they asked the king to close down many of the mills.
The first incipient gunpowder formula comes from the mid-ninth century; clear directions for preparing gunpowders were published in 1040. Eventually the mixtures capable of detonation settled at 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur.
Chapter 5 Fossil Fuels, Primary Electricity, and Renewables
Lacustrine – lake
Bald’s vivid description is also a perfect illustration of a fundamental fact of energetics, an impressive example of how every transition to a new form of energy supply has to be powered by the intensive deployment of existing energies and prime movers: the transition from wood to coal had to be energized by human muscles, coal combustion powered the development of oil, and, as I stress in the last chapter, today’s solar photovoltaic cells and wind turbines are embodiments of fossil energies required to melt the requisite metals, synthesize the needed plastics, and process other materials requiring high energy inputs.
Women who carry coals under ground in Scotland, known by the name of bearers. … The weight of coals thus brought to the pit top by a woman in a day, amounts to 4080 pounds. … Assuming a labor efficiency of 15%, an adult female bearer would expend about 12 MJ of energy.
The latest leading economy to accomplish the transition from phytomass to coal was China, where the process was delayed by the endless twentieth century crises. In 1965 that biomass fuels began to supply less than half of China’s primary energy.
The replacement of charcoal by metallurgical coke in pig (or cast) iron melting belongs undoubtedly to the greatest technical innovations of the modern era as it accomplished two fundamental changes, severing the industry’s dependence on wood (and hence requiring furnace locations in or near forested regions) and allowing much larger furnace capacities and hence a rapid increase in annual production.
British data show that to relate the nineteenth century economic growth primarily to steam is a misconceived conclusion.
The engine’s practical evolution began with Denis Papin’s (1647-1712) experiments with a tiny model built in 1690. Soon after Papin’s toy-like machine came Thomas Savery’s small (about 750 W, or a single horsepower) steam driven pump operating without a piston. By 1712 Newcomen (1644-1729) had built a 3.75 kW engine to power mine pumps.
James Watt (1736-1819) captured the intent of his famous redesign in the very title of his 1769 patent: A New Invented Method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines.
By 1900 the best locomotive engines operated at pressures up to five times higher than in the 1830s, and with efficiencies of more than 12%.
As a result, railway expansion was the main reason for an unprecedented demand for steel during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Mass/power ratio of steam engines and a Megatherium
A medium-heavy horse weighing 750 kg and delivering one horsepower (745 W) will have a mass/power ratio of almost exactly 1,000 g/W – and so will an 80 kg man working steadily at the rate of 80 W. The first steam engines of the eighteenth century were exceedingly massive, with ratios (600-700 g/W) nearly as high as those of people and draft animals. By 1800 the ratio had declined to about 500 g/W, and by 1900 the best locomotive steam engines weighed just 60 g/W. … Before the beginning of World War I the ratio fell below 10 g/W and their efficiencies surpassed 25%.
After several decades of failed experiments and abandoned designs, the first commercially successful internal combustion engine was patented in 1860 by Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir (1822-1900).
Gottlieb Daimler (1843-1900); Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929)
Gasoline has an energy density of 33 MJ/L
Karl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929)
DMG may have embodied the highest car quality, but at the beginning of the twentieth century it was typical in its focus on affluent market.
Daimler Motoren Gesselschaft (DMG) in 1891. … The Mercedes 35 … total weight of 1,200 kg. The car had an exceptionaly (for its time) powerful four cylinder engine (5.9 L, 26 kW or 35 hp, 950 rpm).
Two unlikely pioneers – Wilbur and Oriville Wright, bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio – were the first innovators to power the first successful flight by a light internal combustion engine … on December 17, 1903.
Why did the Wrights succeed, and why did they do it less than five years after they, without any previous knowledge, wrote to the Smithsonian to request information on flight? After refusals from engine manufacturers to build a machine to their specifications they designed it themselves, and their mechanic, Charles Taylor, built it in only six weeks. The engine had aluminum body, no carburator, and no spark plugs, but its four steel cylinders displaced 3.29 L and were to deliver 6 kW. The finished engine, weighing 91 kg, actually developed as much as 12 kW in flight, for a mass/power ratio of 7.6 g/W. But this light, powerful engine was only one key component of their success. The brothers studied aerodynamics and came to understand the importance of balance, stability, and control in flight, and solved this challenge in their 1902 glider.
Rudolf Diesel patented in 1892.
Even during the engine’s first certification test in February 1897 the prototype had an efficiency above 25% (compared to 14-17% for the day’s best gasoline engines). Now the best large diesel engines rate just above 50%, double the rate for gasoline engines.
In December 1892 he was finally (after two rejections) granted a patent.
Friedrich Alfred Krupp (1854-1902)
The commercialization of electricy began with the quest for better lights. As already noted, Davy demonstrated the arc effect in 1808, but the first electric arc lights were lit briefly in Place de la Concorde in December 1844 and then in the portico of London’s National Gallery in November 1848.
The quest for indoor lighting produced by glowing filaments spanned four decades – from Warren de La Rue’s 1830 experiments with a platinum coil to 1879, when Edison unveiled his first durable carbon filament lamp).
Edison succeeded because he realized that the race is not just to have the first reliable light bulb but to put an entire practical commercial system of electric lighting in place – and that included reliable electricity generation, transmission, and metering.
Only Edison had both the vision of a complete system and the determination and organizational talent to make the whole work.
Steam engines … bulky and faily inefficient, were abandoned soon after Charles Parsons patented the more efficient, smaller, and lighter steam turbine in 1844.
Modern turbines reach 3,600 rpm and can work under pressure of up to 34 MPa and with steam superheated to 600 deg C, resulting in efficiencies of up to 43%.
Edison’s aggressive anti-AC campaign beganin 1887 and included the electrocutions of stray dogs and cats on a sheet of metal charged with 1 kV AC.
Edison’s seemingly irrational opposition [to AC] was actually a rational choice made to support the value of Edison’s enterprises. Once he had divested, the conflict ceased abruptly.
All the component of modern electricity generation and transmission were in place before WWI.
Nikola Tesla patented the first practical polyphase induction motor running on AC.
The high operating cost and limited battery capacity made small DC motors inferior prime movers compared to steam engines.
In 1800 the world consumed about 20 EJ of energy (20×10^18 J, an equivalent of less than 500 Mt of crude oil), of which 98% was phytomass, by 1900 the total primary energy supply had more than doubled (to about 43 EJ). In 1800 the most powerful inanimate prime mover, Watt’s improved steam engine, had a capacity just above 100 kW; in 1900 the largest steam engines rated 3 MW, or 30 times as much. In 1800 steel was a rarity; by 1850, only a few hundred thousand tonnes of it were produced worldwide – but by 1900 the global output was 28 Mt.
Another important factor that contributed to modertaing the pace of energy advances was the two rounds of rapid OPEC led oil price rises (1973-1974, 1979-1980) and their dampening effect on energy consumption.
In 2009 China became the world’s largest consumer of energy (by 2015 it was about 30% ahead of the U.S.)
My note: British coal production has completely ceased!
American coal extration peaked at 1.02 Gt in 2001.
In 1950 U.S. generated 46% of its electricity from coal, by 2015 it was 33%. see https://www.eia.gov/coal/
Coal generates more CO2 per unit of released energy than any other fossil fuel – the rates are typically more than 30 kg C/GJ for coal, about 20 kg C/GJ for liquied hydrocarbons, and less than 15 kg C/GJ for natural gas – its future in a world concerned about rapid global warming is uncertain.
In the longer run, coal may be the first major energy resource whose extraction, despite of its still very abundant resources, will be limited because of environmental concerns.
In September 2015 China’s National Bureau of Statistics raised, without any explanation, its previous data on annual coal extraction between 2000 and 2013.
The transportation of crude oil has been transformed by seamless steel pipes.
The Ust-Balik-Kurgan-Almetievsk line (diameter 120 cm, length 2,120 km) carries annually up to 90 Mt of crude oil from the supergiant Samotlor oil field to European Russia, and then about 2,500 km of branching large-diameter lines move that oil to European markets as far west as Germany and Italy.
The single most important advance in refining was catalytic cracking of crude oil. It has made it possible to produce higher shares of more valuable (lighter) products (gasoline, kerosene) from intermediate and heavy compounds.
Global oil production grew roughly 200 fold during the twentieth century. Oil is now produced on every continent and from offshore wells in every ocean except the high Arctic seas and Antarctica. Oil is the single most valuable traded commodity.
Large boilers supply steam to turbo-generators. The best efficiencies are over 40%. Even higher efficiencies, on the order of 60%, are possible by using a combination of gas turbines.
Large diesel engines have been the most economical choice for electricity generation in remote locations as well as for providing standby capacities to deliver uninterrupted power during emergencies.
The first U.S. nuclear power station, Shippingport, in Pennsylvania, began operating in December 1957, more than a year after the British Calder Hall was started, in October 1956.
In retrospect, this was not the best possible choice of reactor design, but it became the dominant type worldwide. Although not a superior design, its early adoption made it entrenched by the time other reactors were ready to compete.
In 2015 it supplied 10.7% of the world’s electricity, and 20% in the U.S.
The technical weakness of dominant designs, the high contruction costs of nuclear plants and chronic delays in their completion, the unresolved problem of long-term disposal of readioactive wastes, and widespread concerns about operation safety (including, even after 60 years of commercial experiences, some grossly exaggerated claims of possible health impacts) have prevented further rapid growth of the nuclear industry.
As a result, some contries have refused to allow any construction of nuclear stations (Austria, Italy), others have plans for their complete closure in the near future (Germany, Sweden), and most nations with operating plants either stopped adding new capacities decades ago (Canada, UK) or have been building only a few new stations, far below the number needed just to replace their aging plants.
The West has essentially given up on this clean, carbon-free way to electricity generation.
The demand for fuelwood and charcoal has been a leading cause of deforestation, most acutely in Sahelian Africa, Nepal, India, interior China, and much of Central America.
The global production of liquid biofuels reached about 75 Mt of oil equivalent in 2015, accounting for about 1.8% of energy extracted annually from crude oil. Scaling this industry to supply a significant share of the world’s liquid biofuels is, bluntly put, delusionary.
Using water to generate electricity is the world’s second most important source of renewable energy.
In 2015 water turbines supplied about 16% of the world’s electricity, with shares as high as 60% in Canada and nearly 80% in Brazil, and even higher shares in a number of smaller African countries.
The contribution of wind and solar electricity remains negligible on the global scale (in 2015 wind generated about 3.5% and direct solar radiation produced 1% of the world’s electricity). see http://energyforhumanity.org/en/low-carbon/a-brave-new-world-deep-decarbonization-of-electricity-grids/
The industry’s [photovoltaic] growth has not been a gradual, organic process but a promotion driven by government subsidies.
None of the long-standing plans for large tidal power plants have been realized.
Lower fuel costs made diesel cars common in the EU, where they now account for more than 50% of new registrations. But the cars remain rare in the U.S.: in 2014 they accounted for fewer than 3% of all vehicles.
[Airplane engines] Those powering large Boeing and Airbus planes now weigh less than 0.1 g/W, a 100-fold improvement compared to the Wright’s pioneering piston design. Engines in military jets are lighter still.
Gas turbines made affordable intercontinental flight possible with their low mass/power ratio is just 0.06-0.07 g/W, high thrust/weight ratio (>6 for commercial engines, 8.5 for the best military engines), and high bypass ratio (at 12:1, currently the highest value, 92% of air compressed by an engine bypasses its combustion chamber; this lowers specific fuel consumption and reduces engine noise).
Chapter 6 Fossil-Fueled Civilization
In 1900 the average weighted efficiency of global energy use was no higher than 20%; by year 2015 the global mean of converting fossil fuels and primary electricity had reached 50% of total commercial inputs.
Affluent nations now derive more than twice or even three times as much useful energy per unit of primary supply than they did a century ago.
The U.S.’s rural labor fell from more than 60% of the total workforce in 1850 to less than 40% in 1900; the share was 15% in 1950, and in 2015 it was just 1.5%.
In 1909 when Fritz Haber invented a catalytic, high-pressure process to synthesize amoonia from its elements.
The roughly 12% of the world’s population that is still undernourished does not have enough to eat because of limited access to feed, not because of its unavailability, and the food supply in affluent countries is now about 75% higher than actual need, resulting in enormous food waste (30-40% of all food at the retail level) and high rates of overweight and obesity.
The latest Boeing 787 is about 80% composite by volume.
Although manufacturing’s shares (as a percentage of the labor force or GDP) have been steadily declining in virtually all rich countries.
In 2014 steel production was nearly 20 times larger than the combined total output of the four leading nonferrous metals, aluminum, copper, zinc, and lead.
Today’s largest furnaces produce around 15,000 t/day, with the record rate at POSCO’s Pohang 4 furnace, in South Korea, about 17,000 t/day.
And electric arc furnaces now consume less than 250 kWh/t of steel, compared to more than 700 kWh/t in 1950; moreover, these gains have been accompanied by reduced emission rates: between 1960 and 2010 specific U.S. rates (per tonne of hot metal) fell by nearly 50% for CO2 emissions and by 98% for dust emissions.
In 1900, the global mean was 18 kg/capita; in the year 2000, with 850 Mt, the mean rose to 140 kg/capita; and by 2015 225 kg/capita, roughly 12 times the rate in 1900. Worldwide production of iron and steel, 7% of the total of the world’s primary energy supply, making it the world’s largest energy-consuming industrial sector.
The minimum energy needed to separate [aluminum] is more than six times higher than that needed to smelt iron.
Titanium production is at least three times as energy-intensive as aluminum’s production.
The first transcontinental link came in 1869.
Hitler’s Autobahnen of the 1930s preceded Eisenhower’s system of interstates by a generation (starting in 1956, the total is now just above 77,000 km), and the latter system has been far surpassed by China’s National Trunk Highway System, whose total length reached 112,000 km in 2015.
The costs of flying have been steadily declining in real terms, in part because of lower fuel consumption.
OPEC’s price rise had a beneficial effect for the global economy as it significantly reduced its average oil intensity (amount of oil used per unit of GDP).
By 1985 the U.S. economy needed 37% less oil to produce a dollar of GDP than it did in 1970; by the year 2000 its o8il intensity was 53% lower; and by 2014 it required 62% less crude oil to create a dollar of GDP than it did in 1970.
There had never been a period of such rapid and widespread growth of output and prosperity as between 1950 and 1973. … The stead pre-1970 decline in real crude oil prices was a critical ingredient of this unprecedented expansion.
World energy use and GWP rose equally 18x between 1900 and 2000.
Energy intensity – energy per unit of GDP
2012, 69% of the U.S. population was overweight.
.. the rates are even higher in Saudi Arabia, and some of the fastest increases in excess weight are now found among Chinese children.
Bettencourt and West (2010) concluded that as the population of a city doubles, economic productivity goes up by an average of 130%, with both total and per capita productivity rising.
embourgeoisement – the proliferation in a society of values perceived as characteristic of the middle class, especially of materialism.
One of electricity’s most consequential social impacts has been to transform many chores of household work and hence to disproportionately benefit women.
Refrigeration now accounts for up to 10% of all electricity used in the households of rich nations.
There is not the slightest indication that America’s high energy use has any beneficial effect on the country’s educational achievements.
The Hiroshima bomb released 63 TJ of energy.
Firebombing of Tokyo, March 9-10, 1945. 18 PJ of energy released from the combustion of the city’s wooden housing, two orders of magnitude (300 times) larger than the energy of incendiary bombs. The destroyed area amounted to about 4,100 ha, and at least 100,000 people died. For comparison, the totally destroyed area in Hiroshima was about 800 ha, and the best estimate of immediate deaths was 66,000.
But the development of nuclear bombs required enormous investment and very large amounts of energy, mostly for separating the fissile isotope of uranium.
Available summations put the total U.S. cost of major twentieth century conflicts at about $334 B for WWI, $4.1 T for WWII, and $748 B for the Vietnam War, all expressed in constant 2011 dollars.
The entire 9/11 operation cost less than $500,000. A national perspective evaluating lost GDP put the cost at more than $500 B. Adding even a partial cost of the subsequent invasion and occupation of Iraq would raise the total well above a trillion dollars.
The magnitude of the nuclear stockpiles amassed by the two adversaries [U.S. and Soviet], and hence their embedded energy cost, has gone far beyond any rationally defensible deterrent level.
An order of magnitude estimate is that at least 5% of all U.S. and Soviet commercial energy that was consumed between 1950 and 1990 was claimed by developing and amassing these weapons and the means of their delivery.
My thoughts: How in the world does something like this happen? Considerable amounts of manpower and dollars must be allocated by congress for this purpose, and the whole time nobody thought, “Hey, we have enough of these to destroy the earth – and maybe we should stop?” This is not said rhetorically. How? Is it the sheer complexity and ambiguity of the system that blinded us to the real numbers? Was it jingoistic tendencies of policymakers? Were there voices of opposition, and if there were what happened to them? Did no one ever sit down and calculate the nuclear power needed to destroy everything? Was it lobbyists for commercial operations pushing and pushing?
Casus belli – an act or situation provoking or justifying war
What have been the results of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq? American imports of Iraqi oil had actually peaked in 2001 when Saddam Hussein was still in control, at about 41 Mt, after the invations they kept on declining steadily, and in 2015 they totaled less than 3% of all U.S. imports.
The verdict is simple: the United States does not need Iraqi oil, East Asia has been its largest buyer – so did the United States go into Iraq to secure Chinese oil supplies?
Chapter 7 Energy in World History
Asia’s most expensive private residential building, Mukesh Ambani’s 27 story $2 B skyscraper in down Mumbai, has an unimpeded view of sprawling slums.
By 1900, with only 90% of the world’s population the Western nations consumed about 95% of fossil fuels.
The best combustors now perform close to theoretical limits. Both large power plant boilers and household natural gas furnaces may be up to 97% efficient.
The history of energy innovations also strongly confirms a still contentious proposition that economic depressions act as triggers of innovative activity.
In 1900 the United States had about 200 car manufacturing companies and France had more than 600. By the year 2000 there were only three American firms, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, and two French firms, Renault and Citroen-Peugeot.
Cars remain a leading source of environmental pollution.
Machines are thermodynamically alive, and their diffusion conforms to natural selection: failures do not reproduce, new species proliferate, and they tend toward maximum supportable mass; successive generations also progressively more efficient (recall all those impressively lower mass/power ratios!), more mobile, and have longer lifespans.
My thought: there is one industry that violates this general principle however, and that’s nuclear. Light water reactor technology overtook the market though it was an inferior technology.
Japan’s minor coal resources, limited hydroelectric potential, and virtual absence of hydrocarbons forced it to be a major energy importer, and in order to reduce its vulnerability to high fuel prices and import interruptions it became one of the world’s most efficient users of energy.
The Soviet Union is the least efficient user of energy in the industrialized world: during the last years before its collapse the USSR was by far the world’s largest producer of both crude oil (extracting 1.66 times as much as Saudi Arabia) and natural gas (nearly 1.5 times as much as the United States), but per capita GDP was only about 10% of the U.S. total.
The creation of timeless literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, or music shows no corresponding advances with the average level of a society’s energy consumption.
… Nor have there been any strong links between per capita energy use and subjective feelings of satisfaction with life or personal happiness.
Societies focusing more on human welfare than on frivolous consumption can achieve a higher quality of life while consuming a fraction of the fuels and electricity used by more wasteful nations.
Indeed, higher energy use by itself does not guarantee anything except greater environmental burdens. The historical evidence is clear. Higher energy use will not ensure a reliable food supply (wood burning czarist Russia was a grain exporter; the USSR, the hydrocarbon superpower, had to import grain); it will not confer strategic security (the U.S. was surely more secure in 1915 than in 2015); it will not safely underpin political stability (whether in Brazil, Italy, Egypt); it will not necessarily lead to a more enlightened governance (it surely has not in North Korea or Iran); and it will not bring widely shared increases in a nation’s standard of living (it has not done so in Guatemala or Nigeria).
That epochal transition from the fossil fuel-dominated global energy system to a new arrangement based solely on renewable energy flows presents an enormous (and generally insufficiently appreciated) challenge.
An the complete transition would require the replacement of fossil fuels not only as the dominant providers of different kinds of energies but also as critical sources of raw materials: feed-stocks for the synthesis of ammonia (about 175 Mt/year in 2015, mostly to supply nitrogen for crops)_ and other fertilizers and agrochemicals (herbicides and pesticides)_; feed-stocks for now ubiquitous plastics (whose total output is about 300 Mt/year); metallurgical coke (now requiring every year about 1 Gt of coking coal and used not just as the source of energy for reducing iron oxides but for its structural role in supplying charged iron ore and flux in blast furnaces producing annually more than 1 Gt of iron); lubricants (essential for functioning of both stationary and transportation machines); and paving materials (inexpensive asphalt).