FUELING THE PLANET

:
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF ENERGY
COURSE GUIDE

Professor Michael B. McElroy
HARVARD UNIVERSITY

Fueling the Planet:
The Past, Present, and Future of Energy Professor Michael B. McElroy
Harvard University

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Fueling the Planet: The Past, Present, and Future of Energy Professor Michael B. McElroy

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Lecture content ©2009 by Michael B. McElroy Course guide ©2009 by Recorded Books, LLC

72009 by Recorded Books, LLC
Cover image: Detail from Pines at Sunrise © Charlie Sawyer #UT136 ISBN: 978-1-4361-8910-1
All beliefs and opinions expressed in this audio/video program and accompanying course guide are those of the author and not of Recorded Books, LLC, or its employees.

Course Syllabus Fueling the Planet: The Past, Present, and Future of Energy

About Your Professor ....................................................................................................4 Introduction ......................................................................................................................5 Lecture 1 Lecture 2 Lecture 3 Lecture 4 Lecture 5 Lecture 6 Lecture 7 Lecture 8 Lecture 9 Lecture 10 Lecture 11 Lecture 12 Lecture 13 A Short History of the Earth ......................................................................6 What Is Energy? ......................................................................................10 The Sun ..................................................................................................14 Fossil Fuels: Coal and Oil (Part I) ..........................................................19 Oil (Part II) and Natural Gas....................................................................25 Water and Wind Power............................................................................30 The Nature and History of Nuclear Power ..............................................35 Steam and the Industrial Revolution........................................................41 Electricity..................................................................................................47 The Internal Combustion Engine ............................................................53 How We Use Energy Today ....................................................................61 The Climate Challenge ............................................................................67 Options for a Low-Carbon Energy Economy: Corn, Sugar Cane, and Other Biofuels ..................................................73 Visions for a Sustainable Energy Future ................................................78

Lecture 14

Glossary ........................................................................................................................84 Course Materials............................................................................................................86 Energy Recycling Facts ................................................................................................87 Notes..............................................................................................................................88

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Photograph courtesy of Michael B. McElroy

About Your Professor Michael B. McElroy
Michael McElroy received his Ph.D. from Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1970, he was named Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Harvard University, and in 1975 he was appointed director of the Center for Earth and Planetary Physics. McElroy served as chairman of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences from 1986 to 2000. He was appointed director of the newly constituted Harvard University Center for the Environment in 2001 and now leads an interdisciplinary study on the implications of China’s rapid industrial development for the local, regional, and global environment. In 1997, he was named the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. McElroy’s research interests range from studies on the origin and evolution of the planets to a more recent emphasis on the effects of human activity on the global environment of the Earth. He is the author of more than two hundred technical papers contributing to our understanding of human-induced changes in stratospheric ozone and to the potential for serious disruptions to global and regional air quality and climate due to anthropogenically related emissions of greenhouse gases. Professor McElroy is also the author of several books, including Energizing China: Reconciling Environmental Protection and Economic Growth (Harvard University Center for the Environment, 1998) and The Atmospheric Environment: Effects of Human Activity (Princeton University Press, 2002). Professor McElroy also recorded one of the first Modern Scholar audio lecture courses, Global Warming, Global Threat (Recorded Books, 2003). You will get the most from this course if you have Professor McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects (Oxford University Press, USA, 2009), which is used as his primary resource.

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Pines at Sunrise Photography by Charlie Sawyer, Tallahassee, Florida.

Introduction
These lectures rely on a book I’ve been working on for a number of years, a book titled Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects (December 2009, Oxford University Press). The theme of the book and my particular odyssey here is to try to get a real sense of the history of the world and how it got to where it is, and with that to examine the problems that have arisen along the way. It’s a theme of the interplay between human activity, energy consumption, environmental change, and the compromises that have had to be made along the way. One of my main objectives in writing the book was to provide a treatment that would not be too technical but would still provide a real sense of how we can get our hands around this very complicated problem—at a time when very serious decisions about energy have to be made by the United States and other countries around the world.

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© Charlie Sawyer

Lecture 1: A Short History of the Earth

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapters 1 and 2.

In the Beginning The Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old. It formed, together with the planets and the sun, from a spinning mass of gas and dust that composed the original solar nebula. This matter accumulated to form the proto-Earth, and the planet started to heat up. As this heating proceeded, the distinct zones of the Earth formed: the core, the dense central part; the mantle, the hot region on the outside; the crust; and the ocean and atmosphere. As heat came out of the Earth it caused the crustal plates to move around. This drift of the continents rearranged the Earth over time, and with it rearranged the climate as well. Life began early in the history of the Earth. The oldest rocks found on the surface today have clear signs of the presence of life. So life is an ancient phenomenon, perhaps 3.8 billion years old, or even older. The early forms of life, prokaryotes, were relatively simple organisms such as bacteria and bluegreen algae. These prokaryotes are still here today, and most likely this life began in the ocean rather than on the continents. Perhaps 1.5 billion years ago, life became a little more complex. Prokaryotes joined together; they essentially fused to provide the opportunity for more complex genetic material and organisms (eukaryotes). The eukaryotes were still very simple, but they could do more complicated things. Some of these organisms developed the capability of surviving in the presence of pure oxygen. The early organisms would have been poisoned by oxygen, so after developing the capability to survive in its presence, they had a big advantage. They could use sunlight for energy by photosynthesis and dispose of the oxygen waste in the atmosphere. Therefore, approximately 1.5 billion years ago, the atmosphere began to move closer to its present condition. The profusion of life continued, though not in a steady fashion. It tended to move in bursts. There was an explosion of new life-forms that occurred in the period known as the Cambrian, about 340 to 510 million years ago. Sixty-five million years ago, a massive meteor hit the Earth, and it changed the climate. It wiped out the dinosaurs and essentially changed the characteristics of some of the large forms of life spread around the Earth. The demise of the dinosaurs proved beneficial for the world of mammals. Humans are a very late arrival on the scene. In fact, Homo sapiens sapiens have been on the planet for only 50,000 years or so, having descended from earlier forms of humans. 6

LECTURE ONE

On the Move During the last major ice age, humans began to move around the world. Human ancestors probably began life in central Africa, and as they moved into the Middle East and farther north into Europe and Eurasia, some of these hardy individuals were able to walk across the Bering Strait, the body of water now separating America from Asia. In a short period of time those humans moved all the way through the Americas down to the tip of South America. The story of civilization continued, and a couple of hundred years ago humans experienced what is usually referred to as the Industrial Revolution, which essentially pointed the way for the entire modern industrial energyintensive economy. Understanding the History If the span of the Earth’s 4.5 billion years was put in the context of a single year, the history would look something like this: January September 1: 1: 9 p.m. Formation of Earth. Appearance of life on Earth. Profusion of organisms. Appearance of vascular plants. Expansion of life from ocean to land. Appearance of amphibians. Massive extinction. Appearance of mammals. 5 p.m. 8 p.m. Extinction of dinosaurs. Appearance of Homo erectus. Appearance of Homo sapiens. Human migration around globe. Development of agriculture and domestication of animals.* Industrial Revolution.

November 20: November 24: November 25: December 6: December 12: December 18: December 25: December 31:

December 31: 11:42 p.m. December 31: 11:56:30 p.m. December 31: 11:58:30 p.m. December 31: 11:59:58 p.m.

*Agriculture began as best as can be told in the Middle East in the region generally referred to as the Fertile Crescent (the area currently occupied by Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and part of Iraq). There are good reasons to believe that the development of agriculture occurred in response to a change in climate. Before the climate moved to a less hospitable condition, this was undoubtedly a Garden of Eden—a region with abundant genotypes of a wide variety of plants and animals such as sheep and goats. People didn’t have to work very hard for sustenance, but as the climate changed, it was advantageous to cultivate plants and domesticate animals that otherwise might move off to better pastures.

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When the Earth’s history is put in the preceding context, it’s apparent that humans are late arrivals on the scene, but are now important players in the global system. In many respects, humans control the Earth. Humans have chopped down trees, built large cities, learned how to fly, learned how to move material and information globally, effectively, instantaneously, and have also learned how to change the atmosphere on a global scale—and consequently have developed the capacity to change the climate.

A portion of the Hong Kong skyline.

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© Jason Murray/shutterstock.com

LECTURE ONE

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What are prokaryotes? 2. What events in the history of the Earth contributed the most to the planet’s current energy-intensive economy?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.

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Lecture 2: What Is Energy?

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 3.

What exactly is meant by energy and power? For the purposes of these lectures, a useful definition for energy is that it is the capacity to do work. Work is accomplished by exerting a force to move something over some distance. Imagine throwing a ball in the air. It will rise to a level, then fall back to the ground. As the ball rises it has to work against the force of gravity. One has to provide energy to get the ball moving. So you’ve provided the ball with kinetic energy, which is determined by mass and speed. As the ball rises and slows down, its kinetic energy is transformed into potential energy, and all the kinetic energy is converted to potential energy at the top of the trajectory of the ball. Then as the ball falls it accelerates and regains kinetic energy. Ignoring such matters as air resistance, it has recovered all its kinetic energy and speed when it returns to the ground. Now suppose water is stored at high altitude in a dam. Imagine unplugging the dam and allowing the water to run. The water possesses potential energy. As you release it, it will pick up speed as it runs downhill and its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy. If you could capture that energy, you could use the speed of the water to turn the wheels of a water mill, for instance. Electricity is another form of energy, produced by converting from one form of energy to another. Thus, electricity is a derivative. Suppose you plug a lamp into an electrical outlet and the light comes on. The energy is supplied in the form of electricity. In the lamp, the electrical energy is converted to light. So if the bulb is rated at 100 watts, a watt is a measure of power, the rate at which energy is delivered to that bulb per unit of time. The watt is named after James Watt, the father of the Industrial Revolution. Suppose you leave the lamp on for an hour. The lamp will have consumed a given amount of electricity, so the total amount consumed depends on the time. Usually, consumption of electricity is measured in kilowatt hours, a power supply of 1,000 watts consumed for one hour. 10

LECTURE TWO

A desk lamp using a traditional, incandescent bulb and a newer, energy-saving fluorescent bulb.

© Denise Campione/shutterstock.com

A very small fraction of the electricity consumed by the lamp is actually converted to light. Most of the energy is converted to heat. So heat is another form of energy. And light is still another form of energy. Part of the modern economy is moving to increase the efficiency of everything we do, and one example of this is the increasing use of fluorescent light bulbs, which are more efficient than incandescent bulbs. Chemical Energy A log is harvested from a forest. The log contains energy. A match could be used to light the log and produce fire and heat. But how did that energy get in the wood? The sunlight was captured by a green plant that grew into the tree that produced the log, so the energy was thus stored in the log in chemical form. Again, this is an example of the conversion of energy from one form to another. How efficiently do green plants capture sunlight? The answer: not very. For the amount of sunlight that shines down on a forest, less than 1 percent of the energy in the light is absorbed by the plants in the forest. In an agricultural system designed for great efficiency, it might be 2 or 3 percent, at most. The plant has to have a supply of nutrient and water to run photosynthesis, which requires energy. So part of the energy absorbed from the sun is used to feed the plant and keep it functioning. Nuclear Energy Six forms of energy have been discussed to this point: kinetic, potential, light, electricity, heat, and chemical. The seventh form of energy under discussion is nuclear energy. An atom is composed of a nucleus and electrons, with the electrons revolving around the nucleus. The chemical energy previously talked about is mostly the energy involved in the rearrangement of atoms to form molecules, larger composite structures, changing from one form to another, either requiring energy to do so or releasing energy in the process. That’s the fundamental nature of chemical energy. Nuclear energy is involved in the properties of the nucleus. The nucleus consists of electrically neutral particles (neutrons) and positively charged elements (protons). These are tightly bound together by strong nuclear forces. If you were able to rearrange the nucleus, in principle you could release vast amounts of energy, or alternatively you might have to use a large amount of energy to rearrange the nucleus of a very stable atom. So the nature of nuclear energy is rearranging energy implicitly bound up in the nucleus of atoms. This can be done by fission, the process wherein you break the nucleus of the atom apart, releasing its components and reforming them into other atoms, and thus releasing vast amounts of energy in the process. Albert Einstein formulated the famous equation E=MC2, making the point that energy and mass are intimately related. So if you can reduce the mass of some system, the reduction in mass must be manifest by an increase in energy. In other words, nuclear energy is basically a matter of changing the mass of elements and in the process releasing energy. 11

Of course, nuclear power was initially developed during World War II to make a devastating weapon, but it can also be used to create electricity. Units of Energy The British thermal unit (BTU) is a measure of energy, the energy that would be required to change the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Another common unit of energy is the calorie, the energy required to raise the temperature of a gram of water by one degree Centigrade. Both these units depend on humans’ experience with water, and scientists don’t like their units to depend on common substances. So physicists have developed a more rigorous way to talk about units of energy. The basic unit of length is the meter. The basic unit of time is the second, and the basic unit of mass is the kilogram. With these three measures a unit of energy can be defined. The physical unit of energy that comes out of this analysis is the joule. There are a variety of different units for the energy people consume in their daily lives. Electricity is generally measured in terms of kilowatt hours. If you buy natural gas, your gas will be billed in units called therms, fundamentally a measure of BTUs. One hundred thousand BTUs equals one therm. So if you wanted to compare gas prices with electricity prices, or therms to kilowatt hours, you could convert both to BTUs and then compare. A quad, or quadrillion BTUs, is the unit used to describe the energy consumed by a nation. The number the United States consumes per year is approximately 100 quad. One other unit is the gallon, a measure of volume associated with the units we purchase for automobiles. A gallon of gasoline contains a certain amount of chemical energy, and that energy is something we can convert and compare. A gallon of gas contains about 115,000 BTUs of energy. The basic unit of power that physicists use and which is used in people’s everyday lives is the watt, a joule per second. Another unit, familiar from knowledge of automobiles, is the horsepower, introduced by James Watt, who sold his steam engines based on how many horses one could replace. A horsepower is a unit that corresponds to the work that could be done by a healthy horse working for eight hours a day.

One joule (J ) in everyday life is approximately equal to • The energy required to lift a small apple one meter straight up. • The energy released when that same apple falls one meter to the ground. • The energy released as heat by a person at rest, every hundredth of a second. • The energy required to heat one gram of dry, cool air by 1 degree Celsius. • The kinetic energy of an adult human moving at a speed of about one handspan every second.
© Clipart.com

LECTURE TWO

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FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What is the relation between potential and kinetic energy? 2. What are the basics of nuclear energy?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
McElroy, Michael B. The Atmospheric Environment: Effects of Human Activity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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Lecture 3: The Sun

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 2.

The United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes roughly 24 percent of the world’s total commercial energy. On a per capita basis, the United States uses significantly more energy than the rest of the world. Per capita, the United States consumes roughly 330 million BTUs per person per year, compared to 64 million BTUs per person per year for the rest of the world. If all that energy were supplied in the form of heating oil (which of course it isn’t) at $2 per gallon, the annual bill for a typical family of four in the United States would amount to approximately $18,500. So energy is an important part of the U.S. economy. The average healthy human puts out energy at a rate of about 100 watts. A highly trained athlete could put out as much as a couple hundred watts. The energy we consume directly in the form of food is only a small fraction of the total energy we consume (about 5 percent). To place our food demand for energy in context, and given the fact that Americans eat a lot of meat, about half an acre of farmland (cultivated land plus pasture) would be needed to satisfy the nutritional needs of a typical person. The Sun Most of the energy from the sun comes in the form of visible light. Objects tend to release light, and the wavelength of light that’s emitted depends on the temperature of the object. The higher the temperature, the more energy is emitted, and the shorter the wavelength of light emitted from the object. The light that comes from the sun is emitted from a region of the solar atmosphere where the temperature is about 5,600 degrees Centigrade. So the place from which the energy is coming is extremely hot—hot enough so that much of the energy is coming in the so-called visible part of the spectrum.

LECTURE THREE

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The sun, as it accumulated from the original nebula, grew extremely hot in its center (millions of degrees) and reached a very high pressure. Under such circumstances, the nuclei of hydrogen atoms are squeezed closely together to form deuterium. In the process, there is a change in mass and a vast amount of energy is produced. The basic energy source for the sun is nuclear due to a process called fusion, which is when nuclei are joined together to Solar storms and a large flare as seen by the make heavier nuclei (but less Hubble Space Telescope in 2006. massive than the combination of the nuclei originally involved in the reaction), so that there is a net release of energy. The holy grail for many in the physics community is to reproduce the solar process on the Earth. The capability to develop a star in the lab, to have fusion, would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, and there would be no waste issues because the waste would be naturally occurring substances. The challenge in creating the conditions that exist in the core of the sun is that the material would have to be contained at millions of degrees and at very high pressure. Labs around the world are trying to do this using magnetic containment. But it is such a challenge that it is difficult to imagine fusion as a significant source of energy for the next several decades, at least. Absorbing the Sun’s Energy The sun is essentially transferring energy from a high-temperature core to the outside of the sun, where the light can escape into space. Space is essentially empty, and the Earth orbits at a significant distance from the sun, so the light coming from the sun is diffusing over a larger area. How much sunlight actually gets to the Earth? As it happens, quite a bit. If there was a target of one metric square pointed at the sun, outside the Earth’s atmosphere, the total amount of energy hitting the target would amount to 1,370 watts per square meter, about 1.4 kilowatts per meter squared. The Earth reflects a significant fraction (about 30 percent) of the sun’s energy back to space. The other 70 percent is absorbed by the Earth. The amount that’s absorbed is about 240 watts per meter squared. Think of 100 units of solar energy coming into the Earth. Thirty units are reflected back to space, with six of those units reflected back from the atmosphere, 20 reflected back by clouds, and about four by bright surface features. (The darker the surface, the less reflective it is and the more it absorbs.)

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© NASA

Of the 70 units that are not reflected back into space, some is absorbed by the atmosphere (16 percent), some by clouds (4 percent), and most at the surface (50 percent). Evaporation The surface of the Earth is relatively cold compared to the temperature of the sun. Some of the sun’s energy is used to heat the atmosphere, but the vast majority is used to evaporate water. If the temperature of water is raised high enough, it burns off and the liquid is turned into vapor. It takes a large amount of energy to transform a given amount of liquid to gas. This represents a major consumption of the energy consumed at the Earth’s surface. Much of this energy is employed to evaporate water from the ocean. The evaporation of water from the ocean cools the surface of the ocean. (People also cool by evaporating water from the surface of their bodies.) The capacity to evaporate depends on the properties of the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is already moist, then it is hard to evaporate. If the humidity is high, for instance, then perspiration doesn’t cool a person off very much. In a dry desert area, on the other hand, even if the temperature is high, one can evaporate and cool his or her body at an acceptable level (and of course a person has to consume more water to do this). People use energy to heat water and transform water from its liquid form to its vapor form, producing a stored form of potential energy that can be used for many purposes. The water evaporated from the surface of the Earth eventually goes back into a liquid or solid form as it cools. So as the air rises and cools the vapor transforms back to a liquid: the precipitation that falls on the Earth. The total amount of precipitation that occurs over the Earth must be almost exactly equal to the total amount of evaporation that occurs from the world’s oceans, which in turn must be almost exactly equal to the energy of the sun absorbed at the ocean’s surface and that is used essentially to vaporize the liquid in the ocean. So there is a direct connection between the solar energy that is used to evaporate water and the precipitation humans need to provide the fresh water that runs the Earth. In terms of capturing the energy of that precipitation, if the precipitation falls on a high region, and it melts in summer, and the water runs downhill into a river, the potential energy of the water stored at the top of the hill is then potentially available as kinetic energy to do work. The energy absorbed directly by the atmosphere or that’s transferred indirectly to the atmosphere by evaporation (followed by condensation and precipitation) is ultimately driving the circulation of the atmosphere: the wind, the mode by which air moves heat from one latitude or region to another. The energy that’s absorbed by the ocean is used to cause the ocean to move, and the combination of the ocean and the atmosphere in motion determine the global climate. Were it not for the fact that heat can be moved through the atmosphere from the tropics toward higher latitudes, and by the ocean, the tropics would be much hotter and the higher latitudes would be much colder. 16

LECTURE THREE

Energy In, Energy Out In a sunny climate region, there might be as much as 300 watts per meter squared of solar energy available at the surface. If 20 percent of that could be captured and converted to electricity (roughly the efficiency with which a photovoltaic cell can create electricity), this would mean a potential to harness 60 watts per meter-squared of solar energy. (One could do some conversions based on the material in the previous lecture to determine how many such cells families would need to power their homes.) Approximately 100 quads of energy are consumed nationally in the United States. If 1 percent of the available sunlight could be converted to energy (very unlikely), roughly two acres per person would be required to satisfy energy needs. How does the 400 quads consumed globally compare to the total amount of sunlight coming into the Earth? Globally, people only use about one part in 10,000 of the sunlight coming into the Earth, so people are not a dominant consumer of solar energy. That solar energy is used to run the climate system, for forests, for food, and to evaporate water from the ocean. In a steady condition, most energy goes back into space as degraded heat in the form of infrared light, so the Earth radiates infrared light at roughly the same rate it absorbs visible light. The climate problem of concern is that by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the Earth is sending less energy back to space than it is getting from the sun. So the Earth is gaining energy from the sun, and the planet is heating up. The heat is being stored in the ocean and is being manifest by a warmer surface on the Earth.

Current Annual Mean Global Temperatures

Data Source: NOAA

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FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What is the relationship between temperature and light wavelength? 2. What happens to the sunlight that reaches Earth?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
McElroy, Michael B. The Atmospheric Environment: Effects of Human Activity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

LECTURE THREE

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Lecture 4: Fossil Fuels: Coal and Oil (Part I) The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapters 5 and 6.

In terms of commercially available energy on a global basis, coal amounts to roughly one-quarter of the energy consumed by the world. One of the problems with coal is that it is carbon rich. The energy from burning coal is released by changing the chemical state of carbon from so-called reduced carbon to carbon dioxide, and thereby releasing energy in the process. In burning coal to supply energy needs, large amounts of carbon dioxide are produced and vented into the atmosphere—the fundamental problem to deal with in terms of the climate issue. The world currently consumes more than five billion tons of coal per year. In recent years, coal amounted to close to 40 percent of the total global source of carbon dioxide being vented into the atmosphere. The increase in coal use in recent years has been spectacular, particularly in developing countries such as China. In 2004, the United States was clearly the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. In 2009, China has moved to number one, for the most part because China is the world’s largest consumer of coal. China is now consuming close to half of the coal used on a global basis. The History of Coal Most of the coal present in the Earth today was formed during the Carboniferous period about 300 million years ago. The climate of the Earth during this period was not very different from what it is at present. It was

Particulate matter hangs in the air over Shanghai at dusk.

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© David Roos/shutterstock.com

defined by alternating ice ages and warm periods. The Earth was in a deep ice age until roughly 20,000 years ago and entered a relatively warm phase about 10,000 years ago. Over the past few million years of Earth history, ice ages have lasted a couple of hundred thousand years with brief warm periods in between. The general view is that the Carboniferous period had a type of climate condition that created an opportunity for some of the plants that eventually formed coal to grow. The plants that became the source of coal grew for the most part during this period on the coastal margins of tropical and subtropical land areas. (Remember that the continents have moved around and were arranged differently 300 million years ago.) The significant reserves of coal in North America and China indicate that China and North America were significantly displaced toward the equatorial region 300 million years ago. The countries today that have rich resources of coal were generally in the tropics 300 million years ago. The landscape of 300 million years ago featured peculiar trees growing to great heights, maybe 200 feet above the ground (in coastal swampy regions) with trunks up to 6 feet in diameter at the base. As these trees died and fell into the swamp ground, they were eventually covered with sediment and mud. A fraction of the carbon in those trees was preserved and, under great pressure, formed what is known as coal. Some coal is relatively pure in terms of carbon; some is relatively polluted in terms of a variety of compounds that cause problems when released in the environment. For example, various types of coal contain greater or lesser concentrations of sulfur. When coal is burned without taking measures to treat it, both carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide are released. Sulfur dioxide forms acid rain when it falls to the surface and is responsible for small particles in the air that are unhealthy when breathed. So sulfur from coal is a serious pollutant. The coal burned in the United States today is regulated by laws that limit the amount of sulfur that can be released into the environment. A utility burning coal to make electricity can either use a coal with a low sulfur content or install equipment that will capture the sulfur from the smokestack—and there is in fact a vigorous market in trading permissions to release sulfur. From Wood to Coal Coal was used more than a thousand years ago in China and was used even earlier for other purposes in other parts of the world. The primary use of coal over much of history was to replace vanishing and deteriorating supplies of wood, the primary fuel for most of history. Wood was used to heat, to cook, and to create charcoal, which was required to smelt ores to make copper and iron. For most of human history, the primary use of wood was to make charcoal to produce a pure form of carbon that when combusted could produce high temperatures. But producing charcoal consumed vast quantities of wood, and in many regions of the world, civilizations exhausted their supplies of wood, and in doing so societies either collapsed or had to use military means to steal wood from their neighbors. 20

LECTURE FOUR

Industrializing When it came to developing the colonies in North America, one of the major advantages that England had was access to wood that was abundantly available on the east coast of North America. (There was a law that required that trees of a certain height were the property of the Crown. Having access to tall wood was a critical military resource for making the masts of the sailing ships that dominated travel at that time.) Even so, the developed world was depleting its sources of wood, and coal became the alternative. Using coal as a replacement for charcoal provided the incentive for the Industrial Revolution. To facilitate this transition, there had to be a process for purifying coal, and this was done first in England by Abraham Darby, who found a way to produce acceptable charcoal that could be used to smelt ore using coal rather than wood. But again, coal is a serious source of pollution. There are means that can be employed to reduce the contaminants by purifying coal before it is burned. Coal, for example, could be treated to convert the carbon to a gas that could be burned, so that the burning process would be relatively clean. Still, it can’t be ignored that energy comes out of the coal in the form of carbon dioxide as a product. Not all coal is the same. The lowest energy content of coal comes from lignite. Subbituminous is better, and bituminous even better. The best of all is anthracite, which is close to pure carbon and which has a very high energy content. The Clean Air Act began to regulate air pollution in the 1970s and such regulation also came in Europe as well. In the United States, the conventional approach was to use non-smoking forms of coal, so-called smokeless fuel, which basically put the onus on using anthracite. Coal has evolved and continues to be a major source of energy, but fundamentally, there is still the problem of carbon dioxide. Oil
© Jim tock Bostwick/shutte rs

m .co

The origin of oil is not the same as the origin of coal. For the most part, oil is a product of photosynthesis occurring in a marine environment, the ocean. There, little organisms, phytoplankton, provide the primary way that solar energy is captured by photosynthesis and ultimately stored in forms that lead to the eventual production of oil. In order to produce prototypical oil, the photosynthesis occurring in the ocean has to produce residues in an environment in which these residues can be stored and not consumed. There are special places in the ocean where the biological productivity is so high that oxygen can not be made available fast enough to consume the 21

dead bodies. These are localized environments and they represent the best places to form the prototypes of what eventually becomes oil. Imagine the dead bodies accumulating under the sediment in these particularly favorable regions and being heated by the heat coming out of the Earth. Eventually, these dead bodies start cooking to form chemicals that eventually become the ingredients of crude oil. Oil in the World Today The environments around the world where the residues of this activity are found are highly localized, and the major sources of oil today are controlled by a relatively few countries. The total oil production in the world in 2007 was dominated by Saudi Arabia, which produced the most oil of any country. Oil is measured and traded in units of barrels. A barrel of oil is 42 gallons. Saudi Arabia produced 11 million barrels per day in 2007. The number two producer was Russia, with 9.5 million barrels per day, followed by the United States with 8.2 million barrels per day and Iran with 4.2 million barrels per day. In terms of consumers, it is a much different picture. The consumers are dominated by countries like the United States, which is no longer able to produce sufficient oil to satisfy its energy needs. The United States is the largest importer of oil in the world, followed by Japan, China, Germany, and South Korea. This presents a dangerous situation in which relatively low-population countries (Saudi Arabia, for instance) and relatively unstable parts of the world control the basic supplies of oil for the global market. On several occasions these countries have been able to withdraw that oil from the market and cause a rapid rise in costs. Scarcity? Geophysicist M. King Hubbert famously predicted that the United States would hit peak oil production in the 1970s and that the rest of the world would

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Data Source: Energy Information Administration

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follow a couple decades later. This prediction has probably come true for the United States. But this downward slide refers to conventional oil—oil that can be produced relatively cheaply by the current system. However, there are abundant sources of unconventional oil, and it seems unlikely that the world will run out of oil in the next couple of decades. It will be a question of cost and of environmental impact. There are vast quantities of potential oil stored in oil shale and in so-called tar sands (notably in Alberta, Canada). With tar sands, the tar would have to either be mined and heated to extract it, or hot steam would have to be used to extract the tar. Then one would have to re-create the lighter hydrocarbons needed for gasoline or jet fuel. The process would be expensive and a major environmental challenge, but the oil is potentially there. The United States is also abundantly rich in oil shale, but once again, a lot more energy must be used to get at it, more carbon dioxide would be produced, and the expense would go up. China has abundant sources of coal. China is not, however, rich in oil. China is now becoming a major importer of oil, as is the United States. So there is essentially an international competition for a scarce supply of oil. If supply and demand are temporarily out of balance, oil prices internationally can rise rapidly or decline. What is oil? Oil is essentially a complicated mix of hydrocarbons (some light, some heavy) and crude oil can be treated to produce the compounds people need. When the oil age began, people were looking for kerosene to burn to produce light. At the time, it replaced whale oil (a good thing, because whales were being grossly overharvested). With kerosene, the distillation process involved throwing away a lot of light hydrocarbons that are today used for gasoline. So a modern refinery is essentially re-creating and restructuring the chemical composition of a complex mix of hydrocarbons present in crude oil to create the compounds people want—gasoline, plastic, kerosene, tar . . . in other words, the whole variety of hydrocarbons the modern industrial economy depends on.

Scotland’s Grangemouth Refinery is one of only nine such facilities in the United Kingdom. It has a refining capacity of approximately 10 million tons of crude oil per year.

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© Ewan Chesser/shutterstock.com

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What provided the incentive for the Industrial Revolution? 2. How does oil form?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Freese, Barbara. Coal: A Human History. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishers, 2003.

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Lecture 5: Fossil Fuels: Oil (Part II) and Natural Gas The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapters 6 and 7.

The story of oil use is an ancient one. There is historical evidence for seeps of oil out of the ground in regions rich in oil today (Iraq, Mesopotamia) as early as 5000 BCE. People used those oil seeps as a source of asphalt, and pitch was used in the mortar of the Towers of Babylon, for example. Even Genesis records God’s instructions to Noah for building the ark: “Make rooms in the ark and cover it inside and out with pitch.” Oil wells in China were drilled as deep as 240 meters as early as the fourth century CE, using drill bits attached to bamboo poles. Oil produced in those wells was used to evaporate brines to produce salt. The Chinese also developed the ability to move oil over significant distances using pipelines they constructed with bamboo. The Greeks found they could use oil as a powerful weapon of war, so-called “Greek fire,” and they used this effectively, for example, to fend off the Vikings. Modern Oil The history of modern oil might be dated to what happened in Titusville, Pennsylvania, on August 28, 1859. At that time, a fellow called “Uncle” Billy Smith, working for Edwin Drake, struck oil at a depth of 69 feet. To store this oil and get it to market, the oil was stored in whiskey barrels. Each barrel contained roughly 42 gallons of oil, and modern trading today reflects this. Smith and Drake got rich off their find, and the market they had was a market
Edwin Drake (foreground, right) and “Uncle” Billy Smith (foreground, left) with workers at the first oil drilling rig near Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859.

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© Clipart.com

for kerosene. Entrepreneurs were poised and ready to take advantage of this. One of the entrepreneurs was John D. Rockefeller, who would become the founder and principal shareholder of Standard Oil. Rockefeller was born in 1839 in the Midwest and established a business selling turkeys at age seven. He was quick to realize that the discovery in Pennsylvania provided a tremendous opportunity to use the oil to replace whale oil as a source of lighting. And he saw he could make even more money if he controlled both the source and delivery to the retail customer. In May of 1911, Standard Oil was accused of being in violation of antitrust legislation, and Standard Oil was broken up into multiple companies. But it still operated in a coordinated way. The market for kerosene was basically depleted when Edison brought electricity to bear to provide cleaner, more efficient lighting. But at about the same time, people (Henry Ford in particular) began to develop the automobile, and with it a demand for lighter hydrocarbons. One of the companies that was formed as a result of the antitrust action was Standard Oil of Indiana, and a man there developed the initial technology to “crack” the oil to make the gasoline-type compounds. There is some irony in that Standard Oil of New Jersey then had to pay Standard Oil of Indiana royalty checks to make use of this technology. As oil became a commodity in great demand, new discoveries were made, including one in Texas in 1901 that was so large that the price of oil got to the point (3 cents a barrel) that it was cheaper than water. One can see that the history of oil is one of booms and busts. The internationalization of oil also occurred in the early part of this century. Oil was discovered in Baku on the Caspian Sea in 1871, in Dutch East Indies in 1885, in Borneo in 1897, in Persia in 1908, in Mexico in 1910, in Venezuela in 1922, in Bahrain in 1932, in Kuwait in 1938, and, the biggest find of all, in Saudi Arabia in 1938.

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A forest of derricks covers the Burkburnett, Texas, oilfield in 1918.

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© Photos.com

Oil and War Winston Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty during the outbreak of hostilities in World War I. Earlier, he had decided to change the Royal Navy from a fleet that relied on coal as a fuel to one that ran primarily on oil. Stoking burners with coal to keep ships running meant that most sailors were stokers and only a few were available to fight. With oil-fed boilers, most of the sailors could be fighting sailors. England, however, did not have a big supply of oil, so the issue became maintaining this supply for the Royal Navy. The United States provided the main supply of oil during World War I for the United Kingdom. Germany didn’t have much oil either. It had lots of coal and used coal as its primary source of fuel. When the Germans decided to invade France, they brought their troops and supplies along the railroad. The French marshaled their troops and took over the taxicabs of Paris to bring their troops to wherever the Germans were. So it was an advantage for the French to have access to oil and a disadvantage for the Germans to be reliant on coal. The oil the Germans had was used for their submarines. The bottom line is that oil played a major role in the Allies’ victory in World War I. In World War II, oil was also a major factor, because the Germans realized early on that they needed a supply of oil to maintain their war effort and took steps in this direction, including developing the technology to convert coal to oil (a process later used by the South Africans during the Apartheid embargo to turn their sources of coal into their major source of oil). Natural Gas In some respects, natural gas is the best of the fossil fuels. As its name suggests, it is a gas, largely methane (CH4), with some other lighter hydrocarbons. It can be piped from one place to another relatively inexpensively, and it can be burned producing a relatively clean flame. It produces carbon dioxide, but since methane contains a fair amount of hydrogen, a significant part of the energy comes from turning those hydrogen atoms into water. So methane produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than oil, which in turn produces less than coal. Natural gas is similar in its source to oil—think of a marine environment, rich biological activity, with lots of dead bodies falling down and being cooked and subjected to high pressures. Most of the natural gas that exists is trapped in natural deposits, and once these are tapped into, large amounts can be brought to the surface. Natural gas has been used for a long time, first in China in 500 BCE. It was first used commercially in Fredonia, New York, as a source of lighting in 1821. In the present, it has become a major source of clean energy for the United States. The largest producer of natural gas is the Russian Federation, followed by the United States, Canada, Iran, Norway, Algeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Malaysia. The United States is essentially self-sufficient in terms of natural gas, although in practice, since Canada has abundant sources of natural gas, the United States imports significant amounts from Canada. 27

The United States has established a pipeline system that brings natural gas from source regions to various storage environments, and from there to consumers. This represents an incredible infrastructure, for the most part below ground. There are over 300,000 miles of pipeline carrying natural gas in the United States, with 1,400 compressor stations to maintain a steady flow of gas, 394 underground gas facilities, fifty-five locations where gas can be imported or exported by pipeline, and five facilities for the import of liquefied natural gas. Moving natural gas in gas form is relatively easy. If the gas is pressurized and cooled, the methane can be turned into a liquid, so more energy can be stored in a given volume. In this way natural gas can be transported by specialized ships (this also requires a system for bringing the liquefied natural gas back to its gas form for distribution). Liquid natural gas will provide a way for countries poor in natural resources to satisfy their energy demands. China, for example, is increasingly relying on liquid natural gas. Europe made the transition to natural gas more recently than the United States. The abundant sources of oil and natural gas in the North Sea allowed the British government in the Margaret Thatcher era to get out of the coal business and to switch its energy economy to oil and natural gas—a good thing for the environment in terms of air quality. The problem is that the North Sea source of oil and natural gas is running out, and so Europe is increasingly forced to depend on sources outside of its borders. The major suppliers are increasingly Eastern Europe and potentially the Middle East and North Africa. It is important to point out that Europe is becoming more and more reliant on an energy source, critical to its economy, that can be withdrawn at the will of an outsider—Russia, in particular, if it chooses to do so for military or strategic purposes.

LECTURE FIVE

A natural gas pipeline disappears into the taiga forest in central Siberia on its way west.

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© Vasily Yernekov

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What does it mean to “crack” oil? 2. How did oil figure in the two world wars?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Free Press, 1991.

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Lecture 6: Water and Wind Power

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 8.

For most of human history, people have relied on personal muscle power and on animals to do work. It is only over the last few thousand years of human history that people have developed the capacity to tap into the energy of running water, and it is even more recently that people have been able to use the energy in the wind. Energy from Water and Wind The earliest use of water power was no doubt tapping river flow to turn a wheel to grind grain. This was probably most effectively used first in Italy during Roman times. As Rome began to decline, manual labor became scarce, and for the first time there was an incentive to produce labor-saving devices. Harnessing the energy in streams and rivers was therefore beneficial in the later days of the Roman Empire. The Doomsday Book records that by 1086 A.D. in England, south of the river Trent, there were as many as 5,624 water mills performing a variety of tasks, including sawing wood, hammering metals, and crushing ore. The Persians were apparently the first to appreciate the use of wind as a source of mechanical power in the seventh century A.D. China also used wind power to pump water, and of course wind was used for sailing ships. Wind was used widely in Holland, where at one time there were as many as eight thousand wind mills, largely employed to pump water to keep Holland dry. In the early United States, Midwestern farmers harnessed wind as a primary way to draw water up to the surface. Seizing Opportunity In New England, the Merrimack River drains an area of about five thousand square miles. It flows from New Hampshire into Massachusetts before moving to the ocean. It captures rainfall from the region, and the average rainfall there is significant. The river drops by about two feet per mile. This is not a lot in terms of capturing energy, but the river does most of its dropping in a series of falls. There are six regions in which there are falls of significance, and three of these falls, which became the key development areas for the textile industry, are in the cities of Manchester (New Hampshire) and Lowell and Lawrence (Massachusetts). The falls at Lowell proved a significant obstacle in bringing the resources of New Hampshire and the upper reaches of the Merrimack River to the city of Boston. 30

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One of the first corporations in the New World was created to construct and manage the canal—the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River (PLC). They built a dam across the river upstream of the The Boott Cotton Mills along the Merrimack River and Hamilton Canal in Lowell, Massachusetts. The mills are falls and diverted the water now a museum and loft apartments. around the falls. They built textile mills that could be energized by drawing water out of the canal to run the mills and produce textiles. The mills could only be operated during the day because of lack of lighting. Not wanting to waste the energy of the water, the river was “turned off” at night. These entrepreneurs also figured out a simple way to charge the mills for their energy. They invented the unit of “mill power”—one unit of mill power corresponded to supplying 25 cubic feet of water per second at a drop of 30 feet, equivalent to a maximum power output of 84 horsepower. Hydroelectric Power While water power in some sense had its industrial heyday in New England and elsewhere a few hundred years ago, the importance of water power has not disappeared. The primary use of water power today is probably the production of electricity from dammed rivers, and hydroelectricity is now a major source of derivative electrical energy. The largest producers of hydroelectric power in the world, in 2003, were Canada first, followed by Brazil, China, the United States, Russia, Norway, Japan, India, Venezuela, France, Sweden, Paraguay, and Spain. The way hydroelectricity works is that a dam is built and water is stored behind the dam. When the water is released at the base of the dam it comes out at high pressure and can turn a turbine and generate electricity. So the higher the dam and the more water stored, the more electricity that can be produced. For the most part, dams are concentrated in areas with significant rainfall and significant topography, high mountains in particular—think of the Rockies, the Andes, and the Tibetan Plateau. This accounts for the important role played by Canada, Brazil, China, and the United States. On a state-by-state basis in the United States, states with the highest amounts of hydroelectricity are Washington state, California, Oregon, New York, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, and Maine.

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© The Boott Cotton Mills/Amy Greenfeld

Entrepreneurs built a canal that circumvented the falls at the city of Lowell. With a series of locks along this canal, boats could go around the falls without having to unload cargo to another boat on the other side of the falls.

In the state of Washington, hydroelectricity provides a cheap source of electricity from the water stored behind dams. Not surprisingly, some of the cheapest sources of electricity in the United States occur in Washington. Many of the large dams in the United States were built some time ago, and the mood about dams is changing, particularly in the United States. Take the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, built in 1966. It’s 710 feet high, with a crest width of 1,560 feet. The thickness at the top is 25 feet and expands to 300 feet at the base. It took 4.9 million cubic yards of concrete to build, and it produced some 3.2 billion kilowatt hours over the course of the year in 2005. There has been significant opposition to this dam based on the impact the dam has on the ecology of the region, and there is a serious possibility that the people operating the dam are going to be forced to limit the energy exploited from the dam to supply water to the fragile ecological system downstream of the dam. There are also plans for the elimination of four dams on the Snake River in Washington—the largest issue being the effect of the dams on the migration of fish, in particular salmon. So there are ecological issues that threaten the future of hydroelectric power in the United States. There is less opposition in countries like China, and arguably some of the largest future developments are going to be in South America, Brazil in particular. Hydroelectric power will be an important contributor to global energy demand in the future, but in no sense will it compensate for demand nor allow for the elimination of coal or fossil fuels.

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A wide angle view of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River at Page, Arizona. Construction began in 1956 and was completed in 1966. The dam created Lake Powell, which straddles the border between Utah and Arizona and is the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States (behind Lake Mead). It stores 24,322,000 acre feet of water when full. The dam generates 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

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© Rainer Plendl/shutterstock.com

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China has been extremely controversial. The cost of the dam has been estimated at $25 billion, and the dam displaced several million people living upstream of it. There are also concerns about the changing ecology around the dam and sewage from the large city of Chung-Ching. Before, this sewage would have run down the fastmoving river and onto the plain, but now it is stored behind the dam. So building dams is a potential contributor to the need for electricity, but one that doesn’t come free. Wind The primary application of wind today is to turn the blades of turbines to create electricity, and it is a growing industry around the world. About 1 percent of the Earth’s absorbed energy is converted to kinetic energy in the atmosphere—and thus the motion of the air, or wind. Harnessing that kinetic energy provides the potential to generate electricity. And since wind is free, there is an opportunity to make a capital investment and capitalize on that investment. The old wind mills were not terribly efficient, but the technology has come an enormous distance. There was a movement to develop wind power after the “oil shocks” of the 1970s, but the initial success of wind power in the United States was circumvented by the fact that oil prices went down precipitously in the 1980s. So people who had invested in wind farms found their investments were not generating electricity at a competitive price. Wind power production essentially terminated as oil prices plunged in the 1980s. It might have revived as people began to worry about climate change, but it wasn’t a major issue during the two terms of President George W. Bush. Climate change was, however, taken seriously in Europe, and Europeans invested significantly in forms of renewable energy. Thus, to an extent, the global wind market, from the point of view of industrial development and investment, switched from the United States to Europe. But this is beginning to reverse. In 2009, new investments in wind power in the United States moved the United States into the number-one position (surpassing Germany) in terms of capacity to generate electricity for wind. In terms of cost, wind is competitive in many regions with conventional sources of electricity. If the price of coal goes up (because of pollution taxes on the release of carbon dioxide, for example), there is an opportunity for wind to become even more competitive. Wind, therefore, represents a significant potential contributor to the future of the energy economy.

Wind turbines on the coast of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.

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© Philip Lange/shutterstock.com

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What are the benefits and problems associated with hydroelectric power? 2. What caused the push for wind power to decline in the 1980s and beyond?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Steinberg, Theodore. Nature Incorporated: Industrialization and the Waters of New England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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Lecture 7: The Nature and History of Nuclear Power

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 9.

The nucleus of an atom in general consists of protons and neutrons, which have comparable mass. The proton is electrically charged in a positive direction, and the neutron is electrically neutral. The proton-neutron combination essentially determines the mass of the atom. Normally, particles of the same charge are going to be driven apart. Very powerful attractive nuclear forces are required to keep protons together in the nucleus of an atom. Those nuclear forces are responsible for the integrity of the nucleus of an atom. If the composition of the nucleus is rearranged, large amounts of energy have to be either supplied or consumed. By Einstein’s equation (E = MC2), eliminating mass produces energy, and increasing mass consumes energy. The material that plays the most important role in the modern nuclear industry is uranium, which occurs in different forms, in other words, in different masses of the nuclei atoms (this means a different number of neutrons in the different isotopes of uranium). The mass number of the elements is defined by the combination of the protons plus neutrons in the nucleus. The forms of uranium in natural environments of the Earth are in three primary isotope forms (with mass numbers of 234, 235, and 238). The key player in the nuclear business is uranium-235. The most abundant isotope is 238 (99.3 percent present in the world). Uranium-235 has an abundance of .0055 percent in nature. To produce power, there needs to be a high concentration of 235, so natural uranium (238) must be enriched for the process. If a neutron is absorbed by uranium-235, it goes to 236, which is unstable and automatically breaks up to form the nuclei of two other chemical elements (for example, barium and krypton). In the process, it can release more neutrons than were absorbed in the first place. So there is a potential to run this sustainably, to keep it going. When the 236 decomposes it produces a massive amount of energy, because the combined mass of the new elements formed is less than 236.
Uranium ore

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© Paul Kletr/shutterstock.com

Some of the elements produced by the initial decomposition of 236 are themselves unstable, so they can also decay and produce a whole suite of different elements, many of which are unstable. The problem of nuclear waste is the problem of what happens to these radioactive elements, which can produce radiation very harmful to humans. Once the nuclear process is initiated, there are a series of consequences to face. The History Enrico Fermi, working in Italy, demonstrated in 1934 that if neutrons were fired at uranium, it would result in a whole range of radioactive elements— and he received the Nobel Prize for this work in 1938. In 1938, a group of German scientists (including Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann, Lise Meitner, and Otto Frisch) provided the first conclusive proof of fission of uranium and for the vast quantities of energy that were released in the process. Weapons It quickly became clear to scientists in the United States that fission of uranium could provide an important new source of energy—and that it could be responsible for the development of a devastating weapon. Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 2, 1939, and indicated that a nuclear chain reaction could release vast amounts of power and generate large quantities of new radium-like elements—which could lead to the development of bombs. The letter eventually led to the establishment of the Manhattan Project, which at one time involved 130,000 people working with a budget of close to $2 billion. The Manhattan Project led to the development and explosion of the first nuclear bombs, and eventually the bombs that were exploded in Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The Manhattan Project had its first major success on December 2, 1942, when it demonstrated the first sustained nuclear chain reaction. The experiment that demonstrated this occurred at the University of Chicago and was directed by Enrico Fermi, who had emigrated to the United States. The first nuclear bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945, in a test in New Mexico at what is now the White Sands Missile Range. The release was equivalent to about 20 kilotons of TNT. The material used was plutonium (the same fuel as for the bomb at Nagasaki). The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima used uranium-235. The energy yielded in these early bombs was modest compared to the energy released in weapons, developed later, which combined fission and fusion with yields up to a thousand times greater than the bombs dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Still, the bombs devastated those cities and were responsible for 100,000 deaths almost immediately, with an uncertain number of casualties later as a result of exposure to radiation. The enduring memory of that devastation has a significant influence in the debate on whether nuclear power is safe as an electricity-generating system. 36

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Harnessing Nuclear Power for Electricity Fission is the first step. On average, there are 2.5 neutrons produced per fission event. In principle, this allows for a self-sustaining reaction in which these neutrons can trigger further fission events. When every one of these reactions results in a single additional fission reaction, the state of the system is said to be critical. This is the condition that applies in a stable, functioning, power-generating nuclear reactor. If the number of fission events increases with time, the system is said to be supercritical, and that’s a situation that occurs when dealing with a nuclear weapon. The average energy of the neutrons that are produced by fission of uranium-235 is very high. If those neutrons encounter the most abundant uranium isotope (238), they will produce plutonium-239, a very good bomb material. To prevent this from happening, the fast neutrons have to be slowed down. And if they can be slowed enough they are more likely to hit the uranium-235 and keep the self-sustaining reaction going. A nuclear power plant contains a number of key elements. One is the rods with which the fissile material is inserted, and then there is a moderator, which is designed to slow the neutrons down so that they react with uranium-235 rather than uranium-238. The transition of nuclear power from military use to civilian use was relatively slow after World War II. The research that was occurring in the United States and elsewhere was conducted under a cloak of secrecy. President Harry Truman established the Atomic Energy Commission in the United States in August of 1946 and gave it responsibility to oversee both civilian and military applications of nuclear energy. The Department of Energy still has responsibilities on the weapons side and the civilian side of nuclear energy as a residue of that early history. The first reactors—so-called pressurized water reactors—were constructed by the U.S. Navy in The picture above shows a single the United States under the direction of Admiral nuclear power fuel bundle. A fuel bundle is made up of several indiHyman Rickover in 1953 and were deployed to vidual fuel rods packaged into a provide the power structure for the new U.S. unit. A commercial nuclear reactor nuclear submarine fleet. The first civilian reacis powered by several of these bundles arranged into a matrix. tor, at Shipping Point, Pennsylvania, became operational at the end of 1957. There was a fairly rapid growth in nuclear power in the United States between 1965 and 1974. By the end of 1974, there were fifty-five reactors around the country generating electricity at a rate of about 32 gigawatts output, accounting at that time for about 6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. 37

© Nevin Bishop/shutterstock.com

The Late 70s An incident at a nuclear facility at Three Mile Island in 1979 generated a tremendous amount of public concern. The incident caused no loss of life and there was no radioactivity released to the outside. Contributing to the public reaction was the fact that twelve days before the accident a movie had been released called The China Syndrome. The movie depicted a disaster that occurred where a nuclear power plant had gone into an unstable mode. So when the incident occurred at Three Mile Island, there was a tremendous public reaction, even if the reaction was not based on an understanding of the issue and even if there was a strong confusion between the use of nuclear energy as a source of nuclear power and the use of it to create bombs. In 1986, at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union, a reactor went unstable and released a massive amount of radioactivity. People died and radioactive debris was spread over a significant region. This helped to create public opposition to nuclear energy, and there hasn’t been significant nuclear development in the United States or in much of the world since that time. The top ten countries in terms of the capacity to produce electricity from nuclear power (for 2005) are, first, the United States, followed by France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Russia, Canada, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. Nineteen to 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States comes from nuclear power. In France, 80 percent of the electricity comes from nuclear power. The French made the decision (in light of the early “oil shocks”) that since France did not have abundant independent sources of energy the country needed to be energy independent. They made a large investment in the nuclear industry and replaced most of its conventional fossil-generated electricity with nuclear power. Not surprisingly, considering that nuclear energy is enjoying more favorable public opinion because of concerns about global climate change, the French are major leaders in pushing the technology in building and managing nuclear facilities in countries other than France. The Future of Nuclear Power Nuclear power is beginning to enjoy a renaissance of popularity in the United States, but there are significant obstacles. There is the need for a complicated permitting process before a nuclear power plant can be built. The second problem is a nervousness among those who might invest in nuclear power that the rules might change and they would lose their investment. And there is good reason to believe this. A nuclear power plant at Shoreham, Long Island, New York, was properly licensed, built, and financed, but never produced a single watt of electricity because of public pressure that forced the nuclear power plant to be decommissioned. A large amount of money was lost, paid for in part by the rate payers of the Long Island utility and in part by local government. At the moment, nuclear power probably is not economically competitive with coal or wind or solar, but there are opportunities for safe nuclear power that have to be part of the research process and potentially part of the solution for developing a safe source of electricity for the future. 38

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Nuclear power results in a range of radioactive isotopes, some of which are active for long periods of time and can cause serious damage if released into the environment, or if humans are exposed to the effects of this radiation. A need exists for a long-term storage facility to keep those elements out of contact with the environment. In the United States, there is a plan to store these long-lived radioisotopes in a facility in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. But the political reaction to it is negative, and major political representatives from Nevada are opposed. In 2009, prospects for Yucca Mountain are not very positive. Another option is to reprocess and reduce the amount of waste, which is what the French do. The problem with reprocessing is that there is the possibility of creating radionuclides that could be used to create bombs. President Jimmy Carter, who was knowledgeable about the nuclear industry, pushed for the United States to get out of the reprocessing business. There isn’t a long-range plan for the development of nuclear power in the United States. Intermediate waste is currently stored at the facilities where nuclear power plants are operating, and there is no plan for long-term storage or reprocessing. There are new ideas about efficient new nuclear power technologies that could produce minimal waste and efficiently produce electricity, but it isn’t clear what the future of nuclear power will be in the United States. The public has, however, become educated about the distinction between nuclear power for civilian purposes and nuclear power for bombs. Political issues will be dictated in part by economic issues, and if nuclear power continues to be expensive relative to alternatives, there will be hesitation in investing in nuclear power. The public objections to coal-fueled power plants, however, have probably shifted public opinion in favor of nuclear power plants.

Sites storing spent nuclear fuel, high-level radioactive waste, and/or surplus plutonium destined for geologic disposition. Symbols do not reflect precise locations.

© U.S. Dept. of Energy

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FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. When is the state of a nuclear system said to be critical? 2. Why is nuclear power enjoying a renaissance?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Bodansky, David. Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects. New York: Springer, 2004.

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Lecture 8: Steam and the Industrial Revolution

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 10.

Water exists in three phases: ice, liquid, and gas. Except at one particular combination of temperature and pressure, only two phases of water are stable at any particular time. At ambient room temperature, there can be both liquid and gas (ice would melt). As the temperature of liquid water increases, the amount of water present in the gas phase increases. The amount of water vapor in equilibrium with the liquid is a function of temperature—an important property of water. Imagine water is heated to 100 degrees centigrade. At this temperature the water boils. This means the pressure of the vapor is equal to the pressure of the atmosphere. At a little higher pressure, the vapor is able to push the air out of the way. As water approaches the boiling point, little bubbles form in the water. These bubbles are formed of water vapor in equilibrium with the water around them. But they’re lighter than the liquid and so they rise and break at the surface. That is the way vapor is transferred from the liquid phase to the atmosphere. As the temperature increases, the pressure of the water vapor will increase. This pressure can exert a force and cause things to move. Because boiling is a result of temperature and pressure, at the high altitude of Denver, Colorado, for instance, the atmospheric pressure is lower than at sea level, causing water to boil at a lower temperature.

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© Roman Sigaev/shutterstock.com

History Thomas Savery, an English inventor, received a patent in 1698 for an invention that used steam to perform work. Thomas Newcomen began to experiment with what he called a “fire engine,” and Newcomen was subsequently forced into a partnership with Savery, because Savery had locked up all the patents. England receives a lot of rain and the ground is typically waterlogged. The problem of mining coal underground is that as the coal is taken out of the ground, water seeps into the vacant spaces and floods the mine. So water has to be continually lifted from the mine to get at the coal. But lifting water is an energy-intensive process. The traditional way of doing it was to have horses haul buckets of water out of the mine. A more efficient An illustration of Thomas Newcomen’s “fire engine.” alternative to horses would provide a great competitive advantage. Newcomen built the first operational steam engine used to draw water out of tin mines in Cornwell, England. It was a massive product, an edifice standing more than fifty feet above the ground with a wooden beam that was free to move up and down on the top of a fifty-foot-high brick wall. On one side was a vertical cast-iron cylinder, open at the top with an accommodating piston connected to a rod attached to a chain springing from one end of the wooden beam. The piston moved up and down to drive a system drawing water out of the mine. The wooden beam moved up and down under the action of this piston and drew water out of the mine. To move the beam, hot steam was injected into the cylinder. That steam drove all the air out of the bottom of the cylinder. So the bottom of the cylinder was full of steam, but there was enough pressure to support the atmosphere above the piston. Then cold water was injected into the steam, condensing the steam and creating a partial vacuum where the steam was before. That vacuum meant the pressure of the atmosphere above the piston was higher than that below and the atmosphere pushed the piston down. Then air was let into the region below the piston and more steam was injected so that the process could begin again.

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Public Domain

The Newcomen steam engine consumed vast quantities of coal to heat the water to produce the steam. Coal was so plentiful that Newcomen didn’t worry about the energy economy of running the engine. The system could not have been more efficient than 1 percent. In other words, less than 1 percent of the energy of the coal was used to lift the water out of the coal mines. Newcomen and his partner made a great deal of money by building these massive structures around England, and under Savery’s patent, they were able to monopolize the business. James Watt James Watt was born in 1736 in Greenock, Scotland, and he became a hero for many people, including successful U.S. entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie, also Scottish born. There was a basic inefficiency in the Newcomen design: not only did water have to be injected to remove the vapor, but the cylinder itself had to be cooled. Watt realized that if he could control the situation with a separate cylinder in which he could draw the steam and cool it, he would have an important advantage. It was a simple but ingenious solution to the problem, and most importantly, Watt had recognized that there was a role to be played in increasing the efficiency with which steam was deployed. Watt then had the basis for an interesting innovation in the use of steam. Watt, however, had the problem of financing the prototype. He partnered with an Englishman, Matthew Boulton, who was a major figure in the Birmingham industrial establishment. Boulton had built a massive silver works, made a great deal of money, and also had a good deal of political influence. In the intervening period, Watt had acquired a patent for his invention. Watt and Boulton needed to build a prototype, which would be quite expensive, and their patent was due to run out in 1775. In May of that year, Boulton used his political influence to have the patent extended to 1800 under an act sanctioned by Royal Assent. The cylinder would have to be fabricated to an exacting standard, because the piston needed to fit exactly into the cylinder without any vacant space that would allow steam to escape and reduce efficiency.

An illustration of James Watt’s more efficient steam engine.

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John Wilkinson had built an innovative boring mill used to manufacture cannon for the Royal Navy. Wilkinson succeeded in producing an effectively perfect cylinder. For close to twenty years, Wilkinson would enjoy a virtual monopoly on the production of the cylinder, which Watt and Bolton would employ in the steam engines that they would market around the country. Watt and Bolton began their enterprise by taking orders for two steam engines to be used in Cornwall in 1776 for tin mines, and with the efficiency of their steam engine, they had an obvious advantage over the Newcomen engine. One important challenge that had to be met to really expand the market for steam engines was to be able to turn steam power into rotary motion. Using a combination of cranks and other devices, Watt was able to turn up-down motion into rotary motion, but if they did it in that fashion, they would have to share the wealth, because patents existed for that particular system. So they invented a new way of turning up-down motion into rotary motion—it was described as the “Sun-Planet System” and used a pair of toothed cog wheels, both of which were fixed to the end of an axle. During his lifetime, Watt became not only a great inventor and a rich man, but also a highly regarded scientist. He was elected at age forty-seven (in 1785) to the Royal Society in London in recognition largely of his contributions to the development of technology and also his contributions to the understanding of the relationship between vapor and liquid in a substance such as water. He died in 1819 and a statue honoring him was installed in Westminster Abbey (the statue was later moved to Scotland). High Pressure, High Temperature Steam was controlled and restricted by patents up to 1800, when the patents began to expire, and it was only after that that the additional applications of coal began to come to the fore. One of the challenges for using steam to drive the locomotive on the railroad was using extremely high-pressure steam. Watt was skeptical about doing this safely, so he never investigated it thoroughly. But after the patents expired, others picked up the challenge. If steam could be harnessed to do work in mobile systems, the mass required to maintain the steam had to be reduced. The best way to do that was to employ steam more efficiently at higher pressures and temperatures. The pioneers in this development were Richard Trevithick, a Cornish mining engineer, and Oliver Evans, an American inventor.

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Richard Trevithick’s 1804 steam locomotive (left) ran with mixed success in Wales, while Robert Stephenson’s Rocket (right), won the Rainhill Trials in 1829.

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Trevithick built a locomotive powered by high-pressure steam designed to run on ordinary roads, but it proved too heavy for most roads at the time. George Stephenson (1781–1848) built a twenty-six-mile rail line in 1825 and ran that line successfully, carrying coal to the market. He built a rail line that linked Liverpool and Manchester in 1830, and this might be considered the forerunner of the modern rail industry. Stephenson and his son Robert designed a fast locomotive he called “The Rocket,” which was remarkably successful. By 1840, 2,390 kilometers of railroad track had been laid in England, and that would increase by a factor of ten over the following thirty years. Rail had become the preferred mode of inland transportation in England. The pace of development in the United States was even faster: 4,500 km of track in 1840, 84,600 km in 1870 with the completion of the first transcontinental rail link, and expansion to 410,000 km by 1914. A completely independent development was also happening—the use of steam to power boats. The heroes in this case are people like Robert Fulton, John Fitch, and Robert Livingstone, and the trick here too was to harness steam under high pressures and temperatures so that it could be safely employed to drive ships.

Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat of Clermont

(later referred to only as Clermont) steaming along the The steamship Great Western Hudson River in 1807. completed the first scheduled transatlantic crossing in 1838. On October 6, 1848, the SS San Francisco steamed from New York around Cape Horn and arrived in San Francisco on February 28, 1849. Man no longer had to rely on wind and sail to explore the oceans.

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FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. How did the Newcomen steam engine work? 2. What was the challenge of using steam to drive locomotives?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Marsden, Ben. Watt’s Perfect Engine: Steam and the Age of Invention. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

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Lecture 9: Electricity

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 11.

Conductors, Insulators, Voltage, Current, and Resistance Electricity depends on electrons. A conductor, such as a piece of metal, allows electrons to move from one part of the conductor to another. Their movement is interrupted by collisions with the ions, the nuclei, from which the electrons were derived. An electron can move along a copper wire, following a random path and moving between collisions with copper ions. Insulators, on the other hand, act as poor conductors. Voltage is analogous to potential energy. An object at high elevation has the potential to generate energy by falling. The difference between the elevation where it starts and the elevation where it falls is a measure of its potential to generate kinetic energy. A voltage change between one point of a conductor and another point can cause electrons to move. Voltage is essentially a measure of the force that drives the electrons to move in a particular direction. The movement of the electrons along a conducting wire is referred to as the current, typically measured in units called amps, and it is simply the number of electrons that are passing a particular position in a conducting wire at any particular time. Resistance depends on how much interruption occurs as electrons migrate from one position to another. So resistance is a measure of opposition to the flow of current. Resistance is determined by the nature of the conductor, and the thicker the wire, the less the resistance (similar to water flowing in a pipe). The other factor that influences resistance is the distance over which the current is carried. The longer the distance, the greater the resistance.

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© Mike Flippo/shutterstock.com

Electricity is one of the most important uses of energy in the modern economy. Consider what would happen to a city deprived of electricity for even a few days. The city would be dark at night, and there would be no subway, no television, no radio, no refrigerators, no freezers, no computers, no labor-saving machines. As existing reserves spoiled, food would soon be in short supply. Elevators in high-rise buildings would grind to a halt. Taps would run dry. In winter there would be no way to heat the buildings, and there would be no way to cool buildings in summer.

Georg Simon Ohm (1789–1854) presented a law (Ohm’s law) that showed that if a current was transferred at a very high voltage, the loss of energy could be minimized along the way. The higher the voltage, the more efficiently electricity can be transferred over a long distance. Generating Electricity The science discussed here occurred for the most part early in the nineteenth century. An early recognition was that there is a direct connection between magnetism and electricity. If a current flows in a wire, it produces a magnetic field, as evidenced by iron filings that move in the presence of a current. The discovery that electric current could produce a magnetic field was first made by a Danish physicist, Hans Oersted, in 1820. People began to find interesting applications for this, and perhaps the first spectacular application was in 1828, only eight years after Oersted’s initial discovery. An English artillery officer named William Sturgeon showed that one could use electricity to lift pieces of metal. In 1828, he lifted a nine-pound weight using a sevenounce piece of iron wrapped with a wire and supplied with a current from a single battery. One of the great early scientists of the United States was Joseph Henry (1797–1878), who began his professional life as a teacher in a small school in Albany, New York. He developed an impressive version of this early primitive electromagnet. He did it by wrapping coils of copper wire extremely tightly—and with insulation to separate the individual loops of wire. By running a relatively modest current through the wire, he was able to lift more than 1,500 pounds. What Hath God Wrought? The discovery that a varying magnetic force can be used to cause magnetic material to move back and forth led to the ability to communicate information over large distances using the electric wire. The person who made money on this was Samuel Morse (1791–1872), who is credited with the initial development of the telegraph. Morse was not a particularly technically oriented person, but he was an entrepreneur and aggressively developed his version of the early telegraph. Along the way, he was helped by Henry, who gave him advice (which Morse was reluctant to ever acknowledge). In 1840, Morse received a patent for what eventually became the telegraph and subsequently demonstrated that it could be usefully employed.
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The first successful demonstration of sending information over long distances was an experiment conducted by Morse and some of his colleagues (Ezra Cornell and Alfred Vail among them). For the demonstration, a line was strung along the railroad track of the Baltimore 48

Samuel F.B. Morse, 1844

© Library of Congress

and Ohio (B & O) railroad between Washington and Baltimore. Morse then telegraphed Vail from the Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol and Vail responded from the B & O Railroad depot in Baltimore. The first message was, famously, “What hath God wrought?” Within five years, there were 12,000 miles of telegraph lines in America run by twentynine different companies. The transmission of telegraphs over these distances expanded in 1866 when the first transatlantic cable was laid, making it possible to send information from the New World back to the Old World. Who’s Ringing? Another great hero of the early electric age was Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Born in Scotland in Edinburgh in 1847 (died 1922), Bell had a mother who was deaf, and undoubtedly that had a major influence in provoking his interest in understanding the nature of sound and how electrical information could be used to transmit sound. Sound is basically composed of waves in Alexander Graham Bell speaking into an early model of the telephone, 1876. the air produced by pressure differences. Understanding the essence of sound allowed Bell to invent what became the telephone. A person could speak into something and cause something to vibrate. The vibration would cause current to flow, and the variations in current could be reproduced on the other side by turning the vibrations into sound. On February 15, 1876, Bell applied for a patent for his work, winning a competition among other inventors working in a similar vein. As a result, Bell is credited as the inventor of the modern telephone. Bell, like Morse, became rich as a result of his invention. Together with his associates, including his eventual father-in-law, he formed the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. The Bell Telephone Company introduced the first telephone exchange, which went into operation under license in New Haven in 1878, and in 1880 the Bell Telephone Company merged with a number of other newly formed telegraph/telephone companies to form the American Bell Company, which eventually became AT&T, incorporated in 1885. In 1899, AT&T acquired all the assets of Bell’s original American Bell Company. With his money, Bell established Science magazine. He was a major player in the beginning of the National Geographic Society. He also toyed with air conditioning and developed the first iron lung, an improved strain of sheep, and a sonar system for detection of icebergs. Bell also set a world record for speed with a hydrofoil he designed in 1918. Thomas Edison In some sense, the greatest player in the history of electricity was Thomas Edison, born in Ohio in 1847. Edison was exactly the same age as Bell, 49

© Library of Congress

and both had hearing deficiencies in their families (Edison also being hard of hearing himself). Edison was interested by electricity early on. At age twenty-one, he moved to Boston and worked as a night-time operator for Western Union, where he was able to improve the operation of the telegraph. He also developed an improved way of operating a stock ticker so that you could transmit information about the price of gold or other important commodities. He resigned from Western Union in 1869 and announced his intention to become a fulltime inventor. He moved to New York and began selling his improved stock tickers and became relatively rich.

Thomas Edison and a light bulb, ca. 1918.

Edison had amazing foresight in that he realized that one inventor could not do everything on his own. A research laboratory was needed to capitalize on the opportunities that existed. He formed the first research laboratory in New Jersey in Menlo Park and he employed specialists to work with him on a variety of projects. Probably the greatest invention normally attributed to Edison was the perfection of a working light bulb, an incandescent bulb, and his research operation at Menlo Park played a major role in that development. Edison’s really important contribution to this story was the development of an integrated system to produce electricity and distribute it to customers over distance. This occurred in the lower part of Manhattan, where he built a power station that used a rotating magnetic field to produce electricity. He was able to distribute that electricity over underground cables and he designed and manufactured his own dynamos to generate the electricity, converting steam power to electrical energy. He had to ensure an even flow of current. He had to connect a fourteen-mile network of underground wiring. He had to insulate the wiring against damaging moisture. He had to install safety devices against fire, and he had to develop motors that used electricity and meters that monitored how much electricity was used so that he could charge customers for its use. AC/DC Direct current is electricity that flows at essentially a constant rate along a line. The difficulty is that electricity can not be moved very long distances because there is no way with direct current to increase the voltage to minimize the resistance for transferring electricity.
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Edison, however, believed high voltages were a bad idea. Alternating current means that at any given point on a conducting wire the current is oscillating back and forth. The real advantage of an alternating current is that a transformer can be used to alter the voltage of an electrical 50

© National Archives and Records Administration

system. So there ensued what some referred to as the “War of the Currents” between Edison and George Westinghouse, who early on began experimenting with alternating current. Westinghouse built the first alternating electricity power distribution system in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1886. He used a hydroelectric generator at 500 volts and stepped it up to 3,000 volts to transmit electricity using a transformer and then pull it back to power lights at 100 volts. Edison and Westinghouse were both competitive individuals, and Edison set out to show that high voltage was a bad idea. He electrocuted a number of animals and on one occasion famously electrocuted an elephant that had run amuck at Coney Island in New York. Eventually alternating current won out because of its ability to transmit electricity over a large area, and most of the systems today use alternating current.

George Westinghouse with an ad from a New York newspaper advertising his alternating current system.

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© National Archives and Records Administration

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What is Ohm’s law? 2. What challenges did Edison face in the construction of his power station?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Von Meier, Alexandra. Electric Power Systems: A Conceptual Introduction. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006.

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Lecture 10: The Internal Combustion Engine

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 12.

In 2004, there were 199 million licensed drivers and 237 million registered motor vehicles in the United States. So there were actually more cars than people to drive them. The key developments in the rise of the automobile were undoubtedly that of the internal combustion engine and the four-stroke engine. (The Web site www.animatedengines.com provides a good visual demonstration of a four-stroke engine.) Early History The development of the four-stroke engine is usually credited to a German named Nicholas Otto (1832–1891), who worked with Gottlieb Daimler (1834–1900). In light of Otto’s contributions, the four-stroke engine is often referred to as the Otto cycle engine. Otto’s original engine was not fueled by gasoline, but by natural gas, and was initially designed for stationary applications. There was a pilot light to light the gas and the engine wasn’t suitable for mobile applications. Otto received a patent for his invention in 1877, but the patent was later ruled invalid by German courts on the grounds that the concept for his engine had been anticipated earlier in a privately published pamphlet in France by a French inventor, Alphonse Beau de Rochas. In 1884, Otto introduced a liquid fuel version, one in which the fuel was ignited by an electric spark. This set the stage for the development of the modern gasoline-powered automobile.
© Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, Owl’s Head, Maine

This Otto engine, manufactured in Philadelphia ca. 1895, powered a woodworking shop on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

An alternative to the four-stroke, gasoline-powered engine was also developed in Germany—in this case by Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913). Diesel received a patent in 1892 and received a U.S. patent in 1898. He was born in Paris of German parents, educated in Munich, and worked in Germany, France, and Switzerland. His design was intended from the outset to improve the efficiency of Otto’s engine, and the key aspect of Otto’s design was that the fuel was ignited in the Diesel engine by contact with high-temperature compressed air without the need for a spark.

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Carl Benz (1844–1929) is usually credited with the invention of the first successful automobile, again in Germany. He received a patent for his Motorwagen in 1886, having earlier earned a patent for his invention of a twostroke version of the internal combustion engine. The Motorwagen had three wheels and was steered by turning a single wheel located in the front, with the two wheels in the rear Carl Benz (inset) and a studio portrait of his Benz used to support passengers. The Patent Motorwagen, ca. 1886. wheels were constructed of wood and the Motorwagen had an accelerator pedal, a carburetor, and a battery-powered electrical ignition system. It was run by gasoline. The cars were designed and manufactured by Benz under the name Benz and Company, which he founded in 1883. By the end of the century, Benz and Company had been established as the world’s largest and most successful automobile company, producing as many as 572 cars in 1899. The Daimler Motor Company, constituted in 1889 by Gottlieb Daimler, Otto’s erstwhile partner, emerged as a competitor to Benz and would develop the first four-wheeled automobile introduced to the market. One of the early investors in the Daimler Motor Company was Emil Jellinek, a rich Austrian businessman who liked to race cars. Jellinek used the Daimler automobile to win one of the world’s first automobile races, held in Nice in 1899. Jellinek named the car Mercedes after his daughter. And later on the name was adopted for all engines manufactured by Daimler after 1902. The Benz Company eventually merged with Daimler Motors to become the Daimler-Benz Company, and the cars were subsequently marketed as Mercedes-Benz. Automobiles received a less-than-warm reception when they were first introduced in the United States. They were initially considered a play toy of the rich. There weren’t roads to accommodate the vehicles and they were expensive to own and operate. Laws were even passed to restrict the influence and spread of automobiles. The State of Vermont, for instance, decreed that every motorist driving a car should be preceded by a person of “mature age” carrying a red flag. Steam Engines Of 4,200 cars built in the United States in 1900, only one-quarter were propelled by the internal combustion engine. Most were driven by steam.
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The key players in the development of the steam-powered automobile were twin brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley, who developed the Stanley Steamer. For a number of years, Stanley Steamers held the record for the fastest cars on the road. The Stanley Rocket set a record for speed at Daytona, Florida, in 1906, reaching a speed of more than 125 miles per hour. 54

© Mercedes-Benz.de/automuseum-dr-carl-benz.de

But the steam-powered car did not attain commercial success. It was difficult to start, and it wouldn’t work under cold conditions, when the water used to make the steam would freeze. There was also an abortive attempt to build cars that would run electrically, and this didn’t work because the batteries available at the time would only allow the cars to go a few miles. Today, the challenge still exists of extending the range of vehicles with battery technology. Henry Ford
Source: Scientific American, July 1907/Public Domain

The person most influential in bringing about the revolution in the automobile industry was Henry Ford (1863–1947). Born in Michigan, his father’s family were poor tenant farmers who had emigrated from Cork, Ireland, in 1847, to escape the Irish famine. They were reasonably successful as a farming family in Michigan.

Top: Driver Louis Ross racing the 1903 version of the Stanley Rocket during a land speed record attempt at Daytona Beach. Bottom: The 1906 Rocket driven by Fred Marriott, holder of the world land speed record, just before an attempt at a new record in 1907, also at Daytona Beach. The Rocket crashed on this run, destroying the vehicle and seriously injuring Marriott.

Henry Ford was unsuccessful early on in apprenticeship roles in various engineering shops in Detroit. He returned to the family farm in 1883 and took a job with Westinghouse fixing farmers’ steam-traction engines. He was an aggressively ambitious young man, and he took a variety of night classes in business administration, accounting, and even typing. At age twenty-five, when he got married, it looked like he was going to settle down to life as a farmer. In 1891, the Ford family moved from the family farm in Dearborn, Michigan, into rental quarters in Detroit, and Ford took a job as a nighttime supervisor of electric power transmission for the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. Ford was successful and moved through the ranks. He eventually became chief engineer with a staff under him of fifty people, earning a thousand dollars a year—quite a bit of money at the time. Ford was clearly committed to the idea of developing his own car, and in his spare time he rented space and, with the help of a number of his friends, he continued working to perfect his engine. He was finally successful in 1896. This first car weighed five hundred pounds and was equipped with a twocylinder, four-horsepower engine. For its inaugural voyage, Ford drove the car to visit his family in Dearborn, taking along for the ride his wife Clara and his baby child, Edsel. He averaged twenty miles an hour. In 1896, Ford met Thomas Edison. Edison said to Ford that steam and electric weren’t practical for automobiles, but that Ford’s engine was self-contained 55

and that he should keep at it. This was a real inspiration for Ford, who admired Edison greatly. Ford invested his personal funds and set up a machine shop. In 1898, he produced his second car, and a year later his third. The business community in Detroit, led by Mayor William Maybury, a Ford family friend, invested funds and set Ford up to manufacture cars at the Detroit Automobile Company. Ford did not devote his effort toward building expensive cars that could be sold to the few who could afford them. He wanted to build heavy delivery trucks and race cars. The Detroit Automobile Company was dissolved in 1901, but the directors of the company allowed Ford to A 1919 portrait of Henry Ford. work at the plant to complete the construction of his race car. Ford then won fame when against all odds he used the car to beat Alexander Winton, who was considered the best race-car driver of his generation. The Henry Ford Company was incorporated a month later with the goal of developing a lightweight car that could sell for one thousand dollars. But Ford’s interest in building race cars once again won out over his investors’ desire to make money. He built race cars with four cylinders, delivering up to 70 horsepower, and he set a record for speed in October of 1902. The investors, however, lost patience with Ford and brought in Henry Leyland, an expert on precision machine tools, to run the company. Ford either resigned or was fired. He was given some severance pay and accorded the right to use his name in subsequent business ventures. The Henry Ford Company was renamed the Cadillac Motor Company honoring the founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Cadillac. Success of the Model T The Ford Motor Company, with an initial capital of $28,000, was formed by Ford with eleven investors in 1903. Ford realized he needed help and brought in a Canadian named James Cousins, who was given the responsibility of overseeing the finances of the new company. Cousins played a critical role in the future success of the company. The historian Douglas Brinkley rates the founding of the Ford Motor Company as “among the most significant events in twentieth-century U.S. industrial history.” This was the beginning of the modern automobile-dominated society of today. From the outset, the Ford Motor Company had as its objective to build affordable cars for the mass market. Henry Ford and his colleagues proceeded to build a series of cars named after the letters of the alphabet, the first of which, the Model A, was sold in July 1903 to a Chicago dentist for $850. By the end of the first year in business, the Ford Motor Company had sold one thousand cars and employed 125 people at its assembly plant in Detroit.
© Library of Congress

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The Ford Motor Company was immediately profitable. Investors received 100 percent of their initial investment in the form of dividends over the first fifteen months of the company’s operation. But the greatest success would come in 1908 with the introduction of the Model T—in some sense the beginning of the mass market automobile industry. Ford’s ambition for the Model T from the outset was that it should be reliable, simple to operate, large enough to accommodate five passengers, and light enough to achieve moderately high speeds while minimizing wear and tear on the tires. It had to accommodate to the uneven quality of the roads it would have to travel.

Top: A 1910 Model T photographed in Salt

Lake City, Utah. Bottom: The final portion of the Most of the cars at the time, particuModel T assembly line at Ford’s Dearborn, larly the Model A, were produced Michigan, plant in 1913. using standard steel. But to meet the requirement for strength and its lightweight design, the automobile needed a special steel, and Ford focused on a vanadium-steel alloy that had earlier been employed in luxury cars in France.

To secure the supply of this alloy, Ford built a steel plant, so he had his own dedicated steel plant supplying material to his automobile assembly plant. Cost containment was a major goal. The automobiles had to be inexpensive and available to as many people as possible. Ford’s objective was that anybody making more than $2,500 a year should be able to afford a Model T. The first Model T was introduced in 1908, and it sold for $850. By the end of 1924, he was able to reduce the price to $290, and his success in lowering the price of the Model T was largely attributed to the innovations he introduced to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process and the expense associated with it. One of the important innovations that Ford is credited with is the introduction of the assembly line to speed up and increase the efficiency of the manufacturing process. Initially, the idea was to specialize the tasks assigned to individual workers. So if a worker had the job of inserting a bolt, the next person on the line would tighten the bolt. Ford made a careful study of the time involved for workers to carry out particular tasks. He figured out that if he could do this specialization and have a sequential conveyor belt that carried the cars past the workers, he could save time and money. Ford said, “Save ten steps a day for each of twelve thousand employees and you will have saved fifty miles of wasted motion and misspent energy.”

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The last Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927, and by that time no fewer than fifteen million Model Ts had been sold worldwide, with assembly lines operating in no fewer than twenty-one different countries. Ford was not only an innovator in terms of manufacture, but he was also a trendsetter in terms of business practices and labor relations. Initially, Ford relied on outside suppliers for many of the parts of his cars, but he figured out this was an unreliable situation, so he established a system where he controlled all aspects of his operation. He was thus credited with the first vertically integrated corporate structure. Ford also pioneered a network of dealers who would market his cars around the country and around the world. There was a national labor crisis in 1914, and he responded to it by reducing the workday of his employees from nine hours a day to eight hours. He awarded them an unprecedented share of the profits of the company and pay that allowed even the lowest-paid employee to earn as much as five dollars a day. He was committed to the idea that his workers could earn enough that they could afford the product of their labor. Ford had shareholders, and he bought out the minority shareholders in 1919 and took the company private. The company continued to prosper subsequent to the privatization, but the exclusive emphasis on sturdy, cheap cars up to 1927 provided an opportunity for competitors. GM and Chrysler Enter the Scene The General Motors Company and the Chrysler Motor Company emerged as major competitors of Ford in the 1920s and 1930s. The American automobile industry was beginning to split, with General Motors becoming increasingly important, in large part because of the concentration of multiple product lines under the General Motors label. Pierre Dupont was chairA magazine ad for a 1927 Chevrolet four-door sedan. The 1927 man of the board and Series AA “Capitol” model became the best-selling car in America that year and propelled General Motors ahead of Ford as the the president of General number-one car manufacturer in the United States. Motors in 1920. He was succeeded three years later by Alfred P. Sloan, whose vision was to produce a car for every “purse and purpose.”

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General Motors would pass Ford as the world’s largest automobile company in 1927, and in 1933 Ford dropped to number three behind Chrysler, formed by Walter P. Chrysler in 1925. Twenty-five years would elapse before Ford reclaimed the number-two position. Ford resumed its status as a public company in 1956, but the Ford family continued to exercise a controlling interest through their holdings of a specialized class of preferred stock. William Ford Clay Jr., a great-grandson of Henry Ford and also a great-grandson of Harvey Firestone, the founder of the Firestone tire and rubber company, became chairman of the Ford Motor Company on January 1, 1999. He stepped down as president and CEO of the Ford Motor Company on September 5, 2006, at a time when Ford was beginning to show some aging and problems producing the cars that the market wanted. He was succeeded by a Boeing executive, Alan Mulally. In 2009, the American auto industry suffered a major challenge to its future. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler were clearly in financial trouble. Subsequent developments led to the bankruptcy of Chrysler and General Motors. Ford, however, did not have to resort to government funds to maintain its status as a company. Entrepreneurs in the later years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century played major roles in bringing the automobile to its present role at the center of everyday American life. With it have come problems: congestion in cities and the need to build a road system to accommodate the large number of cars. The availability of cars and cheap fuel post-World War II also encouraged the spread of cities into the suburbs. In short, all aspects of modern life have been affected by the development of the automobile.

Left: A traffic jam at 14th Street and the Mall in Washington, D.C., 1937. Right: Traffic backed up in downtown Chicago, 2007.

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Left: © The National Archives; right: © Ralph Bolen/shutterstock.com

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What was the key aspect of Rudolf Diesel’s engine? 2. What innovations did Ford introduce to help lower the cost of his automobiles?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Brinkley, Douglas. Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company and a Century of Progress, 1903–2003. New York: Viking Press, 2003.

Websites of Interest
The Owl’s Head Transportation Museum in Owl’s Head, Maine, has one of the finest collections of pioneer-era aircraft and automobiles in the world. Their collections also include motorcycles, carriages, bicycles, and many different examples of engines from the 1880s to the 1940s. — http://www.ohtm.org

LECTURE TEN

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Lecture 11: How We Use Energy Today

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 16.

In the developed world (the United States, Europe, Japan), coal is still a major source of energy, used primarily to produce electricity. The energy to cook and heat houses is for the most part supplied not by coal anymore but by either electricity or some combination of oil and natural gas. The reason for this is largely because coal had such a detrimental effect on air quality. If a person heated his or her home with open coal fire, it was comfortable, but it also released toxic elements into the air both indoors and outdoors. Coal, however, continues to play a role for fuel in domestic applications in large developing countries such as China and India. Where locally available, coal offers a cheaper option. Where there is no coal locally, as in many poor countries, the traditional way of cooking and heating is to use biofuel (wood and plant material and even animal waste). The lives of people in these societies is adversely affected in a number of ways: people have to travel increasingly large distances to acquire the fuel they need for a particular day, and often that labor is performed by women. Energy Use and Efficiency The quad (a quadrillion BTUs) is the unit used to measure national energy consumption. The United States uses, on an annual basis, about 100 quads of commercial energy. Of that energy use, the dominant contribution to primary energy comes from fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas (86.4 percent of the total in 2002). About 39 percent of this energy comes from oil, 23 percent from coal, and 24 percent from natural gas. The combination of wind, solar, and biomass is perhaps 3 percent. Nuclear energy provides about 2.7 percent—so there is a diverse range of sources of energy, but fossil fuels dominate. Electricity is provided by burning coal, oil, or natural gas. The heat released by burning the fuel is used to vaporize water to produce steam to drive a turbine and exploit the relationship between electricity and magnetism. The efficiency of converting the energy stored in coal or other fossil fuel is relatively low. On a national average, the efficiency is about 31 percent, and the balance is wasted (converted to heat and dissipated into the environment). There are intrinsic limitations to how efficiently heat can be turned into electricity. The key factors are the temperatures at which the heat is provided and the temperature at which the waste heat is released. The higher the temperature at which the heat is provided, the greater the efficiency, but given the limitations on the temperature of combustion and the materials holding the steam, it’s difficult to exceed an efficiency of more than 40 percent. 61

In terms of the efficiency of driving cars and trucks, there are still the limitations of thermodynamic principles, and the efficiency turns out to be less than 20 percent. So more than 80 percent of the energy is converted to heat and radiated to the outside environment. But if cars could be produced with an efficiency higher than 20 percent, energy could be saved and environmental performance improved. In the United States, the residential commercial sector accounts for about 30 percent of the total emission of carbon dioxide. Twenty-nine percent comes from the industrial sector, and 32 percent from the transportation sector— roughly equal amounts of carbon dioxide from these three sectors. The first diagram (below) is a summary of the energy trend flows in the United States in 2002. On the left-hand side of the figure is the contribution of energy measured in quads from nuclear, hydro, biomass, natural gas, imports of natural gas, coal, petroleum produced domestically in the United States, and imports of petroleum. On the right of the chart, the nuclear input is shown to be exclusively used by the electric power sector. Nuclear power is being exploited to produce high temperatures to make steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity, and hydro is used for the most part to produce electricity. Biomass, on the other hand, provides a very small contribution to the generation of electricity. The very large contribution to the generation of electricity in the United States is coal. Of thirty-eight quads of electricity produced, twenty quads come from coal and eight from nuclear energy. Natural gas is used to produce electricity, but the larger use of natural gas is industrial and residential. Natural gas is used increasingly to heat homes. It’s

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Source: Dept. of Energy/Energy Information Agency/Public Domain

LECTURE ELEVEN

used to cook and in industrial applications. Some twenty quads of the total energy are coming in through natural gas. Almost all the petroleum in the United States is used to drive the combination of cars, trucks, boats, ships, and aircraft. Initially, the supply is as crude oil, transformed in refineries to a variety of different products to be employed by the transportation sector. Imports are also of great importance and so the United States is vulnerable to prices dictated by external factors—including the possibility of critical disruptions of supply, as occurred in the 1970s. The second figure (right) included in this lecture is a comparable flow diagram that attempts to summarize the carbon dioxide version of the first diagram—how much carbon dioxide comes from the energy sources discussed in the preceding materials. The amount of carbon dioxide produced in 2002 was some 5.7 billion metric tons—a large amount per capita in the United States, essentially about twenty tons per person. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Coal is the number-two contributor of carbon dioxide and natural gas is number three. On an energy basis per unit energy, coal is the worst, because most of the energy extracted from coal comes from producing carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is produced as a result of burning petroleum, but energy is also produced from turning hydrogen into water, so there is more energy per unit of carbon dioxide from using petroleum than from using coal. Natural gas is the best of the three, because natural gas has four hydrogen atoms in a methane molecule, each of which can be oxidized to make water vapor, releasing energy in the process, and so a larger fraction of the energy derived from natural gas is reflected in the emission of carbon dioxide.

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Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

To improve matters in terms of carbon dioxide emission, it would be better to shift from coal to oil and from oil to natural gas, but this option isn’t readily available, because there are limitations on the supply of petroleum. There are also economic limitations and practical limitations. On the right-hand side of the diagram is shown where carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. The commercial and residential sector is a major contributor. The industrial sector is important, but the transportation sector more so. The reason the residential sector is so important has a direct connection to the fact that people use electricity produced in significant measure from coal. China The Chinese economy took off in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping freed up the economy for more rapid growth. The economy has enjoyed a growth rate in China over the last thirty or so years of close to 10 percent per year— extremely rapid growth. The energy consumption in the Chinese economy is growing at a comparable rate. In 2007, the primary energy consumption in China amounted to about thirty-eight quads, a third of the U.S. energy consumption with a population four times that of the United States. On a per capita basis, China is using significantly less energy than the United States. The composition of that in terms of primary energy use is as follows: coal accounts for 53 percent; petroleum 24 percent; biomass 16 percent; hydro 6 percent; and natural gas 2 percent. Nuclear power in China is less than .5 percent. Fifty percent of consumption is by the industrial sector. The residential sector is only 30 percent, and the combination of agriculture and commercial is 11 percent, and transportation only 9 percent. So there are large differences between the current state in China and that in the United States. China is in large part geared toward developing its infrastructure—buildings, bridges, airports, roads, fertilizer production (to feed its agricultural demand), and steel production. Not surprisingly, the residential sector and transportation sector are low compared to the United States. The process of infrastructure development is energy intensive, and to the extent the energy input is coming from coal, it is carbon dioxide intensive in terms of emissions. So China is a large and growing emitter of carbon dioxide, having surpassed the United States as the number-one emitter. The transportation sector is currently a relatively minor part of the economy, but it is growing rapidly. The traditional development of an economy is, first of all, infrastructure development, and then the focus turns to improving people’s lives, including transportation of goods over long distances, personal transportation, and transportation services. The Chinese economy is moving toward this transition, but it is not quite there. Because the next phase requires less energy than the infrastructure phase, the hope is that a correction of sorts will occur. The concern is the impact of this carbon dioxide production on the globe as China makes the transition.

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China and the United States The energy economies of the United States and China are worth contrasting because of the size of the countries and because the contrast provides an indication of the structure of an economy that is developing as opposed to one that has matured. China has a great demand for oil, particularly for its transportation sector. China is not particularly rich in native natural sources of oil (or natural gas), and it is obliged increasingly to import oil and natural gas. China is aggressively investing overseas to try to secure future sources of oil, and whether in Africa or in Iran, it’s clear the geopolitical considerations of energy are of great significance. Neither China or the United States is selfsufficient in terms of energy, and that is likely to create tension, or at least economic conflict, that must be considered.

Three Gorges Dam An important example of the infrastructure building program in China has been the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. It is a massive hydroelectric dam spanning the Yangtze River in Hubei, China, and is the world’s largest electricity-generating plant of any kind. The dam body was finished in 2006. Upon completion (scheduled for 2011), it will contain thirtytwo generators, each with a capacity of 700 megawatts. The total electric generating capacity of the dam will reach 22,500 MW at that time. Besides producing hydroelectricity, the dam increases the river’s navigation capacity and reduces the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. Project managers and the Chinese government regard the project as a historic engineering, social, and economic success, a breakthrough in the design of large turbines, and a move toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the dam has also flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced 1.24 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides.

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© Thomas Barrat/shutterstock.com

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What produces the largest emission of carbon dioxide in the United States? 2. What are the benefits and problems associated with the Three Gorges Dam?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
Rosen, Daniel H. China Energy: A Guide to the Perplexed. Washington, DC: Peterson Institute, 2009.

Websites of Interest
The China Project at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is a research program focused on China’s atmospheric environment, collaborating across the schools of Harvard University and with Chinese universities. The website includes an assessment by China Project researchers of total wind power potential in China and was the cover article of the September 11, 2009, issue of Science. This research was led by project chair Michael B. McElroy and SEAS doctoral student Lu Xi. — http://chinaproject.harvard.edu

Recorded Books
Navarro, Peter. Waking Dragon: The Emerging Chinese Economy and Its Impact on the World. The Modern Scholar series. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2007.

LECTURE ELEVEN

66

Lecture 12: The Climate Challenge

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 13.

The climate system is basically run by the energy absorbed from the sun. People are adding energy to the system by mining and burning fossil fuels and by exploring nuclear power. The total amount of energy that humans consume over the Earth over the course of a year is small compared to the energy absorbed from the sun, less by a factor of 8,500. Some skeptics would thus question how people could be a significant influence on the climate system, but this is a faulty argument. Warming the Earth Energy comes from the sun largely in the form of visible light. Some fraction of the visible light is captured by the Earth. The amount depends in large measure on the reflectivity of the Earth (cloud cover plays a large part here). Once the energy is absorbed, some is used to evaporate water from the ocean, some to heat the surface of the ground, some to put heat into the ocean, and some to fuel photosynthesis. In a state of steady balance, the amount of energy absorbed by the sun would be equal to that released back to space in the form of waste heat or infrared radiation. If all the energy absorbed from the sun was disposed back to space (remember that the amount of radiation emanated from a body depends on its temperature), then the Earth’s temperature would be some 30 degrees below the freezing point of water. The Earth, for the most part, doesn’t send its energy back to space from the surface. It sends it back from a fairly high level of the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is acting as an insulating body on top of the Earth, retaining the heat absorbed by the sun. It is only the outside of that “blanket” that determines how much energy goes out to space.
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The infrared radiation released by the Earth is absorbed for the most part by a number of gases present in the atmosphere (notably carbon dioxide and water vapor, in effect the Earth’s insulating agents). The more insulation, the warmer the Earth will be. If the atmosphere were made only of nitrogen and oxygen, the Earth would be frozen over, because oxygen and nitrogen are poor insulators for infrared radiation. The heat absorbed would go right out into space. Not only would the Earth be colder, but since the ocean would inevitably freeze, it would be whiter, and it would consequently absorb less sunlight to begin with. 67

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But there are other constituents in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is an insulating agent, and as such it will increase the temperature and allow more water vapor to evaporate from the ocean. The vapor will amplify the insulation and make it warmer still, and the warmer it is the more water vapor will evaporate. Increased Greenhouse Gases Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have added a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Until recently, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were trapped between 200 parts per million and 280 parts per million. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels started to rise. The Earth is now at 370 to 380 parts per million and rising rapidly— major contributors to that rapid rise are (1) the burning of fossil fuels and (2) the clearing of land and burning of trees. Other “greenhouse” gases are also increasing—methane is increasing in the atmosphere (there’s a biological component associated with rice production and the reliance on domestic animals). Without question, people are changing the atmosphere in terms of these greenhouse gases in a demonstrable, measurable, and quantifiable way. The Earth is absorbing and disposing back to space a little less than 300 watts per square meter. By adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, humans are making it more difficult for the atmosphere to radiate heat back into space. Since the Industrial Revolution, radiation to space has been reduced by more than two watts per meter squared. As a direct consequence of increasing greenhouse gases, the Earth is now absorbing more energy from the sun than it is releasing into space. The Earth is storing energy, in large part in the oceans.

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People are also doing things to cool the Earth. In burning coal and not treating the pollution, sulfur is released to the atmosphere. The sulfur turns into particles in the atmosphere that become good sites for clouds to form. So the release of sulfur contributes to the reflectivity of the atmosphere. There are good reasons to cut back on the pollution from dirty coal—sulfur released into the atmosphere makes people sick—but doing so also makes the climate problem worse in terms of it no longer cooling the atmosphere. Global Temperature Scientists have been carefully trying to reconstruct global average temperatures back to the invention of the thermometer (Gabriel Fahrenheit invented the mercury thermometer in 1714). The temperature today is on average a degree or so centigrade higher than it was in 1850. It hasn’t increased at a steady rate. It was fairly constant up and down from 1850 to about 1910. From 1910 to 1940 it took off and climbed by about half a degree, then dropped a bit during the war years and stayed constant till about 1970. It has been steadily rising since, but not at a constant rate. There is not much question that the Earth is getting warmer. On the Rocks Glaciers have been receding. Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson of Ohio State University have devoted much of their lives to studying mid-latitude glaciers. In 1970, they drilled a core through a snowfield in the high altitudes of the Andes in Peru. They were able to use that core to examine patterns over several centuries. They returned in the 1990s to look at the same

This graph shows the instrumental record of global average temperatures as compiled by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The zero on this figure is the mean temperature from 1961 through 1990. This graph is used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This graph was originally prepared by Robert A. Rohde from publicly available data.

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ice sheet. In the meantime, it had rained rather than snowed in that area for the first time on record, and the liquid had percolated through the ice and essentially destroyed the chronological record. Normally, the Arctic Ocean freezes over in winter. In summer, as the sun returns to that area, the ice recedes. In recent years, the ice has been melting in summer to the point where people are now on regular occasions able to get all the way to the North Pole without having to break through ice. A few degrees of warming may not sound like very much. There are temperature changes larger than that between day and night and between winter and summer, but climate change in a particular region can be serious. There are regions in the world where it never rains—the Sahara Desert, for one—and these regions tend to be concentrated in a particular latitude. The deserts occur where they do because the circulation of the atmosphere is such that the air rises at the equator and tends to sink in the desert region. By the time it sinks it has lost all its moisture and grows hot as it comes down, so desert areas tend to be very dry, with no vegetation. If the circulation of the atmosphere is extended, deserts could move north. The Sahara could move into southern Europe; the southwestern desert in the United States could move into the grain-producing region—certainly a big deal for the farmers of the Midwest. Sea Level The other big issue is sea level. It is not rising by much, but it can be measured. The sea level is rising for two reasons: (1) the mid-latitude glaciers are melting and (2) the oceans are getting warmer (water expands as temperature increases). The sea level during the last ice age was 110 meters lower than what it is today, and it rose because of the ice sheets that were on the continents. If the ice stored on Antarctica and Greenland were to melt into the sea, there would be a very large rise in the sea level globally. A well-publicized story in Antarctica is that the ice populating the Ross Ice Shelf has essentially disappeared. The elimination did not directly affect sea level, because that was floating ice, but if sea ice buttressing land ice disappears, the land ice might begin to slip and slide, and there are some indications that that has happened. An alarming fact is that much of the world’s population lives close to sea level: think of New York, Boston, London, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh. Skeptics While there are skeptics about climate change, the vast majority of scientists are convinced that it is a serious issue. One argument is that climate is naturally variable. This is true, and scientists have a general understanding of the forces that are responsible for that variability: There are changes in the orbital properties of the Earth. The axis of the Earth is bobbing up and down slowly over time. The ellipticity of the Earth’s orbit around the sun changes because of interaction with other planets. There are effects due to the movement of the continental plates. 70

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There are changes in the distribution of colors (white snow and green forest, for example) on the Earth, and there are changes that are exacerbated by feedbacks from changes that occur in response to these primary changes. There are also variations in the climate that are natural in origin from year to year, so scientists have to rely on more objective information established over many years. Skeptics also put forth that climate change is because of variations in the sun. Scientists measure variations in the total solar radiation changes, and the variations in the output of the energy from the sun are too small to account for the changes seen today. The Future There is great concern about a world in which the climate could be very different: it is likely the tropics will be warmer; plants will grow less efficiently in some regions; plant types will migrate from one latitude to another; disease vectors will alter; and poor countries will suffer more than rich countries. And changes could affect the ecology of northern countries like Canada and Russia (partially to their benefit in terms of milder climate).

Melting Anomalies on Greenland in 2007

The overall challenge is dealing with the prospect of rapid changes in climate compared to the infrastructure now in place. Countries are essentially captive to their political systems. In ancient times, in a country inhabited by hunter-gatherers, if the climate deteriorated, they simply picked up their tents and moved. But this can’t happen today because of political borders, and conflict would occur if it did. If the reliance on fossil fuel–based energy continues, the planet is headed— over the next decades—to carbon dioxide levels of 500, 600, or possibly even 1,000 parts per million. Already, the carbon dioxide level has been raised to a point that has not existed for 650,000 years. The concern about climate change is not simply a “green” issue or an issue for environmentalists. It is a global political issue, and it is of concern to the military and national security community as well. There is an increasing concern that if the climate changes in some regions, people could be displaced, disease could be spread, and the prospects of terrorism could increase. So this is an issue that must be dealt with in a serious way.

This image shows the Greenland melt anomaly, measured as the difference between the number of days on which melting occurred in 2007 compared to the average annual melting days from 1988 to 2006. The areas with the highest amounts of additional melt days appear in red. This image is based on microwave-frequency data from the Special Sensor Microwave/ Imager (SSM/I) on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

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© NASA Earth Observatory Collection

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. Why is the Earth warming? 2. Why is sea level rising?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
McElroy, Michael B. The Atmospheric Environment: Effects of Human Activity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Recorded Books
Kricher, John. The Ecological Planet: An Introduction to Earth’s Major Ecosystems. The Modern Scholar series. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2008.

Websites of Interest
The Climate Refugees website provides information from around the world about people displaced by climate-related changes; an award-winning documentary “The Human Face of Climate Change” by producer/director Michael Nash is available on the site. — http://www.climaterefugees.com

LECTURE TWELVE

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Lecture 13: Options for a Low-Carbon Energy Economy: Corn, Sugar Cane, and Other Biofuels The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapters 14 and 15.

Coal is so cheap and readily available that it’s unlikely it would ever be abandoned as an energy source. The use of coal does, however, entail the problem of the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Dealing with Carbon Dioxide When burning coal, the obvious question is whether carbon dioxide could be captured (before it is released to the atmosphere) and taken someplace and buried. This is known as “carbon capture and sequestration.” If carbon is to be captured after it is oxidized to carbon dioxide, it must be taken into account that coal contains a variety of elements (sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and even radioactive elements). So if carbon dioxide is to be captured, there has to be as pure an exhaust stream as possible, because it would be difficult to isolate the carbon dioxide from these other elements. It would also be expensive and require a significant energy expenditure. One method is, rather than burn the coal directly, to gasify it, or subject the coal to an industrial process in which the carbon is turned into some combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and in which the unwanted elements are removed. A gaseous product that stored the energy in a purer form could then be burned.
A European coal-fired power plant showing smoke streams in an early morning long exposure image.

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© Sandra Kemppainen/shutterstock.com

However, even in an ideal case, the airstream coming up the smokestack would have a relatively small concentration of carbon dioxide. The airstream would be dominated by nitrogen, because the air used to burn the gases is dominated by nitrogen. So there is still the problem of removing the carbon dioxide from the nitrogen and concentrating the carbon dioxide so it would be economically feasible to pipe it somewhere. Each step in the process would require money and a capital investment. Even worse, it would be very difficult to eliminate water vapor, because water vapor is ubiquitously present in the system as well. And you can’t send a combination of water vapor and carbon dioxide into a pipe, because the water vapor will turn the carbon dioxide into an acid, and the acid will corrode the pipe. In using more energy to perform this process, less of the energy in the coal can be converted to electricity. So more coal is used to produce less electricity, and consequently the price of electricity will go up. All the equipment used to capture the carbon dioxide has to be paid for and requires an energy input as well. Storage Then there is the problem of where to put the approximately six billion tons of carbon dioxide produced each year. The first option would be to try to find a productive use for carbon dioxide. It is used in Texas, for example, to push oil out of relatively exhausted oil wells. Interestingly enough, the carbon dioxide now used for this purpose is not recycled carbon dioxide from power plants, but carbon dioxide that has been drilled in Colorado and piped to Texas. While using carbon dioxide for this purpose represents a limited opportunity, it would not come close to accounting for six billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Carbon can also be used to displace gas from gas reservoirs, but again, that represents a limited opportunity. On a big scale, carbon dioxide would have to be put in some geological reservoir, and the geological reservoirs that have been explored for this purpose are old, exhausted coal mines or gas reservoirs. But if it is put in one of these reservoirs, there must be assurances that it stays there. This means ensuring there are no leaks, and the integrity of the storage system would have to be monitored. If the carbon dioxide were to escape suddenly, there would be a crisis for people in the area. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so it would displace oxygen, causing people to breathe carbon dioxide and possibly die.
LECTURE THIRTEEN

There are also salt caverns and other geological systems that could potentially provide reservoirs for storage of carbon, but the technology is not in place and all the costs and safety issues are not known. Another idea is to pipe the carbon dioxide deep into the ocean, ideally into the sediment below the ocean, where it could in principle be stored for a long period of time. If the carbon dioxide is injected into the ocean at a certain depth, the carbon dioxide would be present in liquid form. The liquid would be denser than the water, forming lakes of carbon dioxide on the bottom of the 74

ocean (or if injected into the sediment, it could be involved in stable transformations there). But there are many unknowns: the cost to capture carbon dioxide, the cost to find the reservoirs, the cost to pipe it into the ocean—so it is difficult to make realistic plans for how this could be a major contributor to the problem. And then there is the political issue. If a utility announces plans to bury carbon dioxide, the community will likely be nervous and express similar opposition, as has been done regarding nuclear waste disposal. Transportation The transportation sector produces a significant amount of carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide could conceivably be captured from a stationary power plant, this can’t be done with 300 million cars. There are also the multiple problems of the unreliability in sources of oil, the large amounts of money to buy oil from outside the country, and national security issues. Corn One solution is to use biofuel rather than fossil fuel as the liquid source to run vehicles. The first possibility implemented in a serious way was to turn corn into ethanol. Blended with gasoline, ethanol can increase the octane content of fuel. In 2009, in the United States, 10 percent of fuel is ethanol, and almost all of this is being produced in the United States from the processing of corn. The corn is grown, harvested, and put Ethanol notice on a California gas pump. through a process to produce alcohol from it. The alcohol produced from the corn eventually will be ethanol, which should be as pure as possible. A major problem is that it is possible that more fossil energy is used in making the ethanol than is supplied by the final product. Coal, or electricity, or natural gas is used for the process, fertilizer is applied, and water is drawn to grow the corn, so the process is energy intensive and not much greenhouse gas is saved. Finally, conflicts arise between growing a crop for food and growing a crop for energy, and that has led to serious concerns and has had a serious influence on the rapid rise in the price of critical food stock. There were food riots in Mexico, for example, largely related to the increase in the price of corn, and surely the subsidies and incentives to use corn for ethanol played an important role. The ethanol industry, which was pushed aggressively by the George W. Bush administration, came with significant subsidies to the companies that made the gasoline/ethanol blend, and there was also a failure by the public to recognize that a gallon of ethanol has less energy than a gallon of gasoline. The general consensus is that the experiment with turning corn into ethanol as a substitute for oil in the United States has been a failure and should be abandoned, although it persists. 75

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Sugar Cane Another more promising source of ethanol is to turn sugar cane into ethanol—the major source of ethanol in Brazil. This has been very productively introduced going back to the oil crisis in the 1970s. The Brazilians designed cars to be “flex fuel” vehicles, so the cars could be filled with either pure ethanol or pure gasoline, or any mixture of ethanol and gasoline. This meant motorists could choose which fuel to use based on what was cheaper at the time. The Brazilian market has been relatively successful, although clearly there is a competition between sugar and ethanol in terms of which product is the best for farmers to produce, but overall sugar-cane cultivation is more favorable from an energy point of view and from a carbon dioxide point of view than is using corn. There may be other problems, though. Turning sugar cane into ethanol requires a lot of land to even come close to being a substitute for gasoline, so if Brazil and other countries are going to become a major source of ethanol from sugar cane, that means a large-scale development of that agricultural system. One has to worry what pressure that puts on other agricultural commodities and how it would affect deforestation in tropical rain forests, which would cause a carbon dioxide problem offsetting any benefits that could come from ethanol produced by sugar cane. Biofuel Many people in the United States and around the world believe there is a future in ethanol not produced from food-competitive crops. The idea is taking wood chips or grasses that humans can’t eat and use the cellulose to produce ethanol. In principle, this could be done, but there is no scalable technology yet available that could do this at a reasonable price. Still, there are those who feel this could be a worthwhile contributor to the transportation fuel demand. Again, there would be questions about the land required and the cost. But even if this were done at a reasonable price, there might be a better way to use biomass sources of carbon.
An E95 bus showing sugarcane art on its side operating in São Paulo, Brazil.

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© Carolina K. Smith/shutterstock.com

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What are the difficulties involved in capturing carbon dioxide before it is released to the atmosphere? 2. What are the drawbacks of corn as a biofuel base for ethanol?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Other Books of Interest
McCarthy James J., Osvaldo F. Canziani, Neil A. Leary, David J. Dokken, and Kasey S. White, eds. Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Websites of Interest
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website provides facts and information on global climate change through working groups, meetings, and publications. — http://www.ipcc.ch

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Lecture 14: Visions for a Sustainable Energy Future

The Suggested Reading for this lecture is Michael B. McElroy’s Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects, chapter 17.

Electricity in the Home A third of carbon dioxide emissions are associated with domestic and commercial institutions. Lighting accounts for roughly 9 percent of total household use of electricity in the United States. Most lighting still comes from inefficient incandescent light bulbs (only 2 percent of the electrical energy used to light incandescent bulbs appears as light and the rest is released as heat). If lighting a house on a hot summer day, that heat increases the need for air conditioning. The largest use of electricity in the home is probably for electric water heaters (gas water heaters are much more efficient), followed by portable space heaters. Number three would be for freezers, and people should also keep in mind that older refrigerators are not nearly as efficient as new ones. Electric clothes dryers and window air-conditioner units also consume a lot of electricity. The cost of generating electricity at a utility can vary over the course of a year. If high temperatures are forecast and a utility projects a major demand for electricity (for air conditioning), the utility has to buy that electricity from somewhere else to meet the demand—and usually that electricity is expensive. In the current system, the demand for electricity is not directly connected to supply. The utility responds to what it expects the demand is going to be. If, however, there was a two-way connection between homes and the utility, the utility could alert the homeowner that the next-day’s electricity was going to be extremely expensive. Homeowners could then turn their thermostats up so that they could save money, and resources would also be saved in supplying electricity. This is part of what is called the “smart grid”—the opportunity to buy electricity when it’s cheap and to not buy it when it’s expensive. Conservation in general can account for significant savings of electricity and of energy more generally. Other places to save energy in the home are through insulation, better windows, and more efficient appliances. The overall 78

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challenge for the consumer is gauging the savings for a given investment in energy conservation, and this is often difficult to determine. Better building codes are critical. The State of California, for example, has an exemplary record of achieving significant savings in domestic consumption of energy without compromising delivery of essential energy services. In the 1970s, after the first energy crisis, California passed a number of far-seeing laws that provided economic incentives for electric utilities to reduce consumers’ demand for electricity. The net effect of those regulations is that California has kept its energy per capita consumption effectively constant, while energy use per person in the United States as a whole has risen over the same period by more than 50 percent. Most of the housing stock in the United States is aging, and people often do not have the motivation to increase a home’s energy efficiency. One idea is that, when a house is put up for sale, the decision of the bank to release the mortgage to the new owner could be partially based on a consideration of the projected energy costs of running the home. That would provide incentives for either the seller or buyer to make investments that would reduce the monthly bill. On the Road The development of the car industry has been extraordinarily inefficient. When oil and gasoline prices are low, people tend to buy big, gas-guzzling cars with massive horsepower for rapid acceleration. That has to change. Providing the auto industry with incentives for people to buy cars that are more fuel efficient is a move in the right direction. Every mile-per-gallon saving is a big deal. In recent years, some auto companies have introduced more efficiency into their product lines—the hybrid being a case in point. When driving a car electrically, 90 percent of the electricity can be used to turn the wheels of the car. With the internal combustion engine, however, only 18 percent of the energy in the fuel drives the car. The Toyota Prius represents a compromise. Gasoline is used part of the time to produce electricity on board the vehicle, and then the electricity can be used to drive the car. The energy recovered from braking is also converted to electricity. In stopand-go traffic, the car does not need to use energy when it’s stopped and can then turn on the electrical drive when it’s time to go. Such cars provide a good benefit for air pollution and increase efficiency. An even better option is to have enough battery-storage capacity on a vehicle so that the batteries could drive the car and recharge by generating electricity on board the vehicle. This is known as a “plug-in hybrid.” The equivalent cost of driving a car electrically and replacing the cost of gasoline depends on the cost of electricity, and electricity prices over the United States vary by large amounts. In the state of Washington, where electricity is cheap, you could drive the car electrically for the equivalent of 40 or 50 cents per gallon of gasoline. In Massachusetts, it might cost something more like $1.80 per gallon of gasoline (these figures will vary and are used for illustrative purpose only). But even at current prices of gasoline (in mid-2009) around $3 per gallon, driving the car electrically would save money. 79

The fundamental challenge of moving to plug-in hybrids is battery technology. The real problem with using a battery pack to drive a car is that achieving the range of a gasoline-fueled conventional engine (some 300 miles between charges) would place a massive demand on batteries. If the United States made a massive transition to this technology, cars could attain an equivalent of more than 150 miles per gallon of gasoline if electricity was the supplementary fuel. The United States could thus significantly reduce the demand for imported oil. The Saudi Arabia of Wind One can envision a world in which electricity increasingly becomes the energy-delivery mechanism of choice, saving fossil fuels and cutting down on the emission of carbon dioxide. Hydroelectricity might seem an obvious choice for providing more electricity, but the United States is probably not going to move in that direction. Public opinion is against big dams. There may be some opportunity here, but not one on a large scale. Wind may be the big player, and the global potential for wind power is very large. Over the course of the Earth, 1 percent of the total energy absorbed from the sun is converted to motion of the air. Modern wind turbines are very good at capturing that energy, converting 40 percent or so of the kinetic energy of the wind to electricity. On-shore wind technology is likely to be cheaper than off-shore wind technology—and probably less controversial. The supply of wind in the central part of the United States is conceivably enough to supply the current electricity needs of the country. In principle, it could supply a multiple of the current electricity need by harvesting the electrical potential of the winds in states from North Dakota down to Texas. This would be an economically favorable alternative, especially if taxes are placed on carbon emissions. The United States, without exaggeration, is potentially the Saudi Arabia of wind. The wind industry is growing rapidly in the United States. Farmers and ranch owners are generally receptive to placement on their land, because in parts of the country relatively poor land owners are getting rent for the placement of a turbine for as much as six or seven thousand dollars a year. And a turbine, because it’s placed high above ground, does not take up much real estate, and farmers can still farm around the base of the turbine.
A South Dakota wind farm in winter.

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© Michael Carter/shutterstock.com

One problem lies in bringing power to the consumer. Delivering power from North Dakota to Boston or from North Dakota to San Francisco requires a smart way to distribute electricity. The U.S. electrical system was built in a piecemeal fashion. If the interstate highway system was built the same way, a person driving from Boston to San Francisco would get a little past Chicago and run out of road, with the next road not starting again for a few miles. The United States has three disconnected electric grids. A national plan is needed to capture the energy abundantly available in wind and solar in the middle of the country and bring it to the demand centers. This could be done with high-voltage transmission lines, but if they are above ground there is the political problem of communities saying “not in my backyard” or “not near my home.” Since the federal government basically controls the interstate highway system, the real estate available in the interstate highway system (or in the railroad system) could be used as the right of way for these transmission lines. And putting these high-voltage transmission lines underground could also be a consideration. This would require an investment and long-term commitment, but it would be a capital investment that would provide essentially free electricity for thirty years (the lifetime of a turbine). The question is whether there is the political will to make this transition. The Best Approach Critics will argue that there are problems with a variable source of electricity such as wind. One problem is that wind doesn’t blow all the time at any given place, wherein the demand for electricity tends to be driven by customer preference—obviously, the customer is not looking out the window to see if it’s windy and then deciding to use electricity. In the United States, the demand for electricity peaks in summer and wind resources peak in winter, so there has to be a balance between what’s available and what’s required. One possibility is to complement wind resources with electricity generated using sunlight. The placement of photovoltaic cells on rooftops of buildings is expensive, but viable. And some large commercial organizations are already putting photovoltaic arrays on the roofs of their buildings. The economic possibilities for solar power are being tried out in the American Southwest, where concentrated solar power uses a series of mirrors to track the sun and reflect sunlight to heat water and produce steam to drive a turbine. A combination of concentrated solar power, photovoltaic arrays, and wind could go a long way toward supplying the need for electricity. If this major investment in renewable sources of electricity was made, there would be times, particularly in winter, when there would be excess electricity. This excess electricity could be discharged through water to produce a combination of hydrogen and oxygen in a process known as electrolysis. And that would provide a potentially cheap, electrically derived source of hydrogen. With hydrogen, other fuels such as methanol, a liquid fuel that could be used in cars, could be produced. This kind of investment provides an opportunity for social advantage. The wind resources in the United States and China are often concentrated in 81

poor, low-population-density parts of those countries. Investing in those regions could therefore bring economic prosperity where it is most needed. Other Sources of Renewable Energy Below ground, the temperature is approximately the average annual temperature of a region. If that relatively constant temperature can be tapped, this geothermal energy can provide a source of both heating and cooling for homes. Even deeper, the temperature is much higher than the surface temperature, and in principle that high temperature could be used to produce steam to drive a turbine. There’s abundant geothermal energy available, but an MIT study has projected it would not be economically viable on a large scale until 2050. It’s still something, however, that should be investigated, at least on a small scale. The future could also see nuclear energy playing a large role. Despite a number of concerns, it is a viable, potentially significant contributor to energy needs and should be part of long-range planning. A Vision for the Future The United States will move to a system in which the country selectively reduces reliance on fossil fuels with an initial primary emphasis on reducing the use of coal by a combination of conservation, better building codes, and selective introduction of non-carbon energy alternatives (wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear). At the same time, more cars will rely on electricity for energy rather than on fossil fuel. Plug-in hybrid models would give people the option, if they needed to drive longer distances, to burn a conventional liquid fuel. That fuel could be gasoline or natural gas or a hydrocarbon manufactured from the excess hydrogen made available by excess wind power. This is a vision of a world in which the climate problem is dealt with in a fashion that creates a new national energy economy. The world twenty-five years from now could be vastly different—more efficient, more equitable, and more environmentally friendly. The United States might no longer be captive to outside supplies of energy, instead employing a self-sufficient supply. The technologies that could be developed could provide more opportunity to make money overseas. The United States has largely lost its manufacturing industry—as has Europe to a large extent. While the United States is still a leader in some areas (biotechnology, communication science, information technology), the nation needs to develop a new way of doing things. With electricity as the major delivery mechanism of energy, there is a hopeful vision of a world with a clean, self-sustaining, and efficient global system; a world where there is an opportunity to improve the lives of people, whether in the West or in developing countries; and a world where a capability has been developed to at least minimize the potential damage of climate change. 82

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The Smart car is one of a growing number of energy-efficient vehicles.

© Bob Mastin/shutterstock.com

FOR GREATER UNDERSTANDING

Questions
1. What is the smart grid? 2. What purpose can excess electricity serve?

Suggested Reading
McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Article of Interest
McElroy, Michael B. “Saving Money, Oil, and the Climate: Using Non-Fossil Energy Sources to Power Our Vehicles.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard Magazine, March-April, 2008. This article is available on the Web. — http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/03/saving-money-oil-and-the.html

Websites of Interest
The Alternative Energy News website provides news and information resources about renewable energy technologies. — http://www.alternative-energy-news.info

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GLOSSARY

albedo—an index of “reflectiveness”: quantifying how much radiation is reflected back from an object, as opposed to radiation that is absorbed. anoxic event—a period when the Earth’s oceans are free of oxygen below the surface layer. anthropogenic climate change—climate change with the presumption of human influence, usually warming. anti-greenhouse effect—the cooling effect an atmosphere has on the ambient temperature of the planet. aquifer—layer of underground sand, gravel, or permeable rock in which water collects. anthracite—the highest ranking of coal used primarily for residential and commercial space heating. Arctic amplification—the effect of sea-ice melting, replacing high-albedo ice with lowalbedo sea that absorbs the radiation from the sun, gets warmer, and melts more ice. Arctic shrinkage—the marked decrease in Arctic sea ice and the observed melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet in recent years. atmospheric sciences—an umbrella term for the study of the atmosphere, its processes, the effects other systems have on the atmosphere, and the effects of the atmosphere on these other systems. atmospheric window—refers to those parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that are, with the Earth’s atmosphere in its natural state, not absorbed at all. bituminous coal—the middle ranking of coal (between subbituminous and anthracite) formed by additional pressure and heat on lignite. Usually has a high BTU value and may be referred to as “soft coal.” BTU (British Thermal Unit)—the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. The BTU is a convenient measure by which to compare the energy content of various fuels. carbon—a chemical element found in all living things. carbon dioxide (CO2)—A colorless, odorless, incombustible gas formed during combustion in fossil-fuel electric generation plants. carbon sequestration—proposals for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, or for preventing CO2 from fossil fuel use ever being released. carbon offset—opportunity for individuals and businesses to neutralize their contribution to climate change. climate—the average and variations of weather in a region over long periods of time. climate change—changes of climate in general, usually with no presumption of human influence. climate refugee—a displaced person caused by climate change–induced environmental disasters. coal—a readily combustible black or brownish-black rock whose composition, including inherent moisture, consists of more than 50 percent by weight and more than 70 percent by volume of carbonaceous material. deposit—mineral deposit or ore deposit is used to designate a natural occurrence of a useful mineral, or an ore, in sufficient extent and degree of concentration to invite exploitation.

GLOSSARY

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GLOSSARY

desertification—the degradation of land in arid and dry sub-humid areas, resulting primarily from natural activities and influenced by climatic variations. emission standards—requirements that set specific limits to the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment. enteric fermentation—fermentation that takes place in the digestive systems of ruminant animals. fossil fuel—a substance found in the layers of the Earth that can be burned and is formed by the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Oil, natural gas, peat, and coal are fossil fuels. Global Climate Model (GCM)—a computer model of the world’s climate system, including the atmosphere and oceans. global warming—the warming trend over the past century or so; any period in which the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere increases; the theory of such changes. greenhouse effect—a complex natural process that takes place when gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, including water vapor, allow heat energy from the Sun to pass through to the land and oceans. Heat energy radiating from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by atmospheric gases, known as greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated back to Earth instead of escaping into space. greenhouse gas—types of gasses that cause the greenhouse effect. hydrate—a compound formed by the union of water with some other substance. insolation—amount of solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth. irradiance—amount of electromagnetic radiation reaching a surface, measured in watts per square meter. magnetosphere—the region around an astronomical object in which phenomena are dominated or organized by its magnetic field. methane—a colorless, odorless gas composed of carbon and hydrogen. Methane occurs naturally in marshes, rice paddies, oil wells, and volcanoes. Methane is also formed in the digestive track of ruminant animals and termites. Methane is a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere because it absorbs long-wavelength radiation from the Earth’s surface. polar amplification—greater temperature increases in the Arctic compared to the earth as a whole. It does not apply to the Antarctic. recoverability—in reference to accessible coal resources, the condition of being physically, technologically, and economically minable. solar variation—changes in the amount of radiant energy emitted by the sun. sunspot—a region on the sun’s surface (photosphere) that is marked by a lower temperature than its surroundings and has intense magnetic activity, which inhibits convection, forming areas of low surface temperature. Sunspot activity is subject to research on climate change. tipping point (climatology)—the point at which change due to human activity brings about sufficient new processes in nature to make any human reversal of the change impossible. urban heat island—a metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surroundings.

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COURSE MATERIALS

Suggested Reading for This Course: McElroy, Michael B. Energy: Perspectives, Problems, and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009. Other Books of Interest: Bodansky, David. Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects. New York: Springer, 2004. Brinkley, Douglas. Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company and a Century of Progress, 1903–2003. New York: Viking Press, 2003. Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997. Freese, Barbara. Coal: A Human History. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishers, 2003. Marsden, Ben. Watt’s Perfect Engine: Steam and the Age of Invention. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. McCarthy James J., Osvaldo F. Canziani, Neil A. Leary, David J. Dokken, and Kasey S. White, eds. Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. McElroy, Michael B. The Atmospheric Environment: Effects of Human Activity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Rosen, Daniel H. China Energy: A Guide to the Perplexed. Washington, DC: Peterson Institute, 2009. Steinberg, Theodore. Nature Incorporated: Industrialization and the Waters of New England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Von Meier, Alexandra. Electric Power Systems: A Conceptual Introduction. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006. Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Free Press, 1991. Recorded Books: Kricher, John. The Ecological Planet: An Introduction to Earth’s Major Ecosystems. The Modern Scholar series. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2008.
COURSE MATERIALS

McElroy, Michael B. Global Warming, Global Threat. The Modern Scholar series. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2003. Navarro, Peter. Waking Dragon: The Emerging Chinese Economy and Its Impact on the World. The Modern Scholar series. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2007. These books and recordings are available online through www.modernscholar.com or by calling Recorded Books at 1-800-636-3399. 86

ENERGY RECYCLING FACTS

! A survey in 2008 by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that at least thirty-six states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013. ! Retrofitting one out of every one hundred American homes with water-efficient fixtures could save about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. The greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to removing nearly fifteen thousand automobiles from the road for one year (EPA, 2008). ! Replacing an older toilet with a new “WaterSense” labeled toilet in 1 percent of American homes would save approximately 38 million kilowatthours of electricity (EPA, 2008). ! A faucet running for five minutes uses about as much energy as a 60-watt light bulb running for 14 hours (EPA, 2008). ! World electricity demand is expected to double between 2000 and 2030. The greatest increase will occur in the developing world (Worldwatch Institute, 2007). ! Only about 35 percent of coal energy in a power plant converts to electricity. The remaining two-thirds is lost as waste heat (Worldwatch Institute, 2007). ! Approximately half of an average American home’s energy consumption is used for heating (EIA, 2007). ! Lighting consumes approximately 34 percent of electricity in the United States (Worldwatch Institute, 2007). ! Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are an energy-saving alternative to incandescent bulbs. They produce the same amount of light, use one third the amount of electricity, and last up to ten times as long (Worldwatch Institute, 2007). ! Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for twenty hours, a computer for three hours, or a television for two hours (EPA, 2008). ! The steel industry’s annual recycling saves the equivalent energy to electrically power about 18 million households for a year. Every time a ton of steel is recycled, 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,000 pounds of coal, and forty pounds of limestone are preserved (EPA, 2008). ! The junk mail Americans receive in one day could produce enough energy to heat 250,000 homes (EPA, 2008). ! It takes half a barrel of crude oil to produce the rubber for just one truck tire (EPA, 2008). ! Producing one pound of recycled rubber versus one pound of new rubber requires only 29 percent of the energy (EPA, 2008).

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NOTES

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