Reading or listening to news from many different sources and media, I'm frequently incensed about the apparent lack of understanding of the difference between energy (content) and power

Goodbye to Gasoline…

By —— Bio and Archives--October 15, 2017

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Have you seen headlines like “Say Goodbye to Oil, Gas, & Solar…,” or “The new Gasoline,” courtesy of Goldman-Sachs (Snopes), or “Holy Grail of Fuels Found,” and other salivations about “alternative” new energy sources?

Such posts typically come with claims like “... 1,693X more powerful than gasoline ...” or “it could power your car for over 50 years on one tank… and it “could make OPEC completely obsolete.”

They all sound as if there is (are) new type(s) of energy SOURCES, that could provide near limitless energy, presumably also at next to no cost. Claims and promises of an energy-Nirvana, right here on earth, ready to exploit next week or soon thereafter?

Does any of that sound familiar?

After all, it’s fall and the countryside fall fairs are in full swing. Plenty of food, entertainment for the children, artful exhibits of local produce, dog and pony shows, etc.

Compared to the former times of (folk)lore, snake-oil salesmen are gone for good. They have been replaced by slick internet sale pitches, downloadable on your smart phone or whatever. And such links to great fortunes-to-be-had are coming in faster than the fresh buns from the nearby bakery.

For sure, we are stocking up the root cellar with this year’s harvests, turning off and draining the water from outside taps and performing other “winterizing” duties. Some people say the coming winter or, perhaps, even winters are going to be “uncomfortable” or so. Well, the last one wasn’t too bad, except it lasted until May and this summer was rather cool and certainly more wet than usual. By my rain gauge, the amount of precipitation since April was about three times the norm of the last 30 years.

Now, let’s come back to the “new gasoline,” i.e., the wonder fuel that is supposed to power everything, henceforth and in near-perpetuity. Actually, it’s no energy source at all, rather an energy carrier!

You may ask, what’s the difference? The short answer is: “Fundamental, my dear Watson.”


Energy and Energy Sources

A fuel is something you use to drive your car’s engine, heat your home, turn into electric power, or send a rocket to the moon. In simple terms, the fuel is something that contains a lot of energy that one can harness and use in various ways, for example by controlled combustion. A true energy source provides more energy on combustion than is required to obtain it.

Yes, modern technology can make synthetic fuels, for example from limestone and water, or other materials by using LOTS OF ENERGY.

That’s the point! The energy contained in synthetic fuels (or stored in a battery) is only a fraction of that spent to create the fuel or energy in the battery. And you certainly cannot have more energy in the product than you consumed or converted to create the product.

Carbon-based natural fuels, i.e., coal, bitumen, crude oil, natural gas, or peat have been used by people for millennia to heat their homes in winter. With the advent of combustion engines, various fractions of crude oil, like diesel, kerosene, and gasoline were developed to be used in engines that propel our cars, ships, airplanes, lawn mowers and other implements. The large-scale extraction of the bountiful fossil fuel resources on earth has propelled mankind from the stone-age into modernity.

Reading or listening to news from many different sources and media, I’m frequently incensed about the apparent lack of understanding of the difference between energy (content) and power.


Continued below...

Power vs. Energy

Your “engine” (e.g. horse or car) pulling your soap box or Conestoga wagon from the bottom of a hill to its top needs a certain amount of ENERGY for that work. The horse may get that energy from some oats, a car from fuel in the tank or energy previously stored in a battery. However, on the hilltop, the soap box has the same energy potential, regardless of how it got there.

In order to accelerate a certain weight (e.g. car) to a certain speed on a given course, one needs a certain amount of energy. Whether that amount of energy is provided by a “one-horse-team” or a 1,000-HP engine is irrelevant. Both “engines” require the same amount of energy!

Now, when it comes to POWER, a high-power engine will certainly accelerate you faster than the old mule. Still, the amount of energy needed to achieve a certain speed is the same.

Power is commonly measured in units of “horse-power” (HP), i.e. the power available from your “standard” horse, or in Joule (J), or in Watt (W).

In contrast, energy is measured in units of “power-times-time,” like Watt-hours (widely used units are “kWh” [meaning 1,000 Wh]), or “horse-power-days” (just kidding, though in principle they are realistic units), or other energy terms. What’s absolutely critical here is the length of time during which a certain power is exerted.

If that explanation is still unclear, let me ask a simple question, it involves an old mule (value $500) and a brand new fancy electric vehicle (value $100,000):


Continued below...

Mule vs. e-Car

What would use more energy for the work of pulling a wagon for 1000 miles across the same landscape: an old mule or a modern electric vehicle?

While the mule may be a bit slower than the e-car (unless its batteries run out of usable stored energy and the car gets stuck on the ground), the energy requirement is identical. Both the initial acceleration and top speed of either are irrelevant in that. Assuming equal efficiencies of the two “engines,” the question then is only whether or not the energy requirement varies—it does not. Of course, if the engine efficiencies are not equal, a mule may actually be the better choice.

So, when you get another “xx-horse-power-engine,” think about that.

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Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts Convenient Myths

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