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History & Context

A Brief History of Energy Research, From First Principles

History | Categories | Glossary

13.7b BCE Big bang (as per current accepted western science theory).

4.57b BCE Star creation, fusion, evolution and generation of successively heavier and more complex elements.

4.54b BCE Planet creation with evolution of environments sentient life forms could evolve in: lightning discharges producing building blocks of DNA from atmospheric gases.

3-4b BCE Solar energy: evolution of single cell organisms, multi-cell organisms, algae, diatom growth in water, plant growth on land, eventually feeding of life forms on food from other life forms.

525m BCE Muscular energy: chemical energy from digestion of foods created initially by solar energy, then converted to mechanical energy, acting on the world, being acted on by the world by the muscles of other life forms.

400k BCE Combustion: burning of fuel created from solar energy, plant growth, etc.; first fires either from volcanic activity (geothermal energy), lightning (electrical energy) or heat from meteoric impacts (gravitational potential energy/mechanical energy) setting fire to combustible materials. Combustion also from friction, starting of fires by humanity. Mechanical energy: mass flows such as wind, water flows, wave action in oceans. Potential energy converted to mechanical energy: avalanches, rock slides, water flowing from a higher to lower level.

9k BCE Inventions to convert energy: inclined plane to alter potential energy of an object by raising it to a greater height; invention of the wheel (sliding to rolling friction); chemical to mechanical, Chinese invention of the rocket.

3k-1k BCE Creation of axle and paddle wheel to convert mass flow of wind/water to mechanical form we can use; transportation of objects and materials goes from horse back to sled (surface friction) to wheels (rolling friction).

~50 BCE Creation of closed vessels to capture thermal energy of fire in water, generate steam, convert this energy to mechanical work through directed flow.

1763 Creation of closed vessels with a directed outlet in the creation of rockets by early Chinese; invention of of the aeolipile as described by the Greek Hero of Alexandria. First western experimentation by individuals such as Taqi al-Din (Turkish) and Giovanni Branca (Italian). James Watt (English) contributed perhaps one of the largest steps forward in steam engine invention.

1800 Discovery and characterization of infrared radiation (heat as electromagnetic radiation).

1821 Discovery of thermoelectric effects to convert heat to electrical energy.

1823 Creation of combustion engines to do work.

1831 Creation of electrical generators to convert mechanical energy to electrical energy.

1832 Creation of electric motors to re-convert electrical energy to do mechanical work.

1887 Discovery of photoelectric effect and subsequent discovery of solar cells to convert light to electrical energy. Discovery of thermoelectric effects to convert heat to electrical energy. Discovery of electromagnetic radiation.

1896 Discovery of fissile materials (radioactive elements) having penetrative radiation and generation of heat resulting from fission reactions in radioactive decay process.

1901 - 1924 Discovery of wave/particle duality.

1905 Discovery and characterization of the nature of light (photons).

1932 Discovery of fusion and explanation of at least one component of the sun's source of power.

1940s - 1970s Ongoing discovery and investigation of myriad of subatomic particles, components and sources of nature's basic forces.

2011 - ? On the horizon: speculation, ongoing investigations at string, quantal, particulate, nanoscale and macroscale levels, and discovery of as of yet not fully characterized nor understood natural spectra of energy in nature, such as zero point energy, dark matter, dark energy; potential for tapping natural sources requiring no combustion of any kind.

Categories of Energy Sources

History | Categories | Glossary

The Quantal Energy team recognizes four main categories of or sources of energy: 1) conventional; 2) alternate; 3) conventional renewables; 4) non-conventional or infinite.

1Conventional energy sources are defined as those that are finite in duration - in human terms - and fixed in quantity. This would include human physical power, animal power (beasts of burden), and carbon based fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, and peat. This also includes radioactive sources.

2Alternate energy sources are defined as those which though finite are essentially infinite in human (though not geologic) terms. This would include geothermal which is derived from the heat of the earth's inner strata and whose duration far exceeds that of known or estimated length of human evolutionary periods; this source suffers from geographic restrictions (locations where the earth's crust is thin). This would also include fusion derived from deuterium and tritium whose use is currently essentially untapped owing to the thus far lack of success of fusion reactors.

3Conventional renewables energy sources: This category includes biomass renewable sources such as any plant products that are directly burned, e.g. wood, or any plant or other biomass derived fuels such as methanol, palm oil, or biodiesel. Though these may be renewable they nevertheless ultimately involve the oxidation or burning of the end product with resulting carbon emissions. The products in this category involve enormous effort put into producing them and are in direct competition with food production or forests for arable land. We also include in this category: 1) solar energy for heating or electrical power generation; 2) tidal energy; 3) wind power; 4) hydroelectric; 5) hydrogen. These last five are constrained either by geographic latitude, time of day, meteorological variation, seasonal variation, or geographic location (hydrogen is being included here only in cases where it has been generated from electrolysis rather than being a by-product of the petroleum industry). QE is actively involved in improving efficiencies of this class of energy generation systems.

4Non-conventional or infinite energy sources: This category grows out of contemporary theory and investigations of sources of energy found throughout cosmos, not just stars. The associated processes are of such a scale, extension, energy density, and duration as to essentially be infinite in human terms. QE is keeping abreast of current theory and experimental evidence and is itself working to apply recent findings to potential new generation systems.


History | Categories | Glossary

Casimir Effect In quantum mechanics there is an assumption that space is not empty but filled with electromagnetic fluctuations. When two uncharged conducting plates are placed very close together, the space between them only allows waves of specific lengths to exist in that space. Since this limit results in there being far more wavelengths outside that space the two plates experience a force pushing them together. This was first predicted by the Dutch physicist Hendrick Casimir in 1948 and first measured at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1997. This is an experimental verification of the presence of these fluctuations which exist even in the vacuum of space, thereby leading to the term "vacuum energy" sometimes known as "zero point energy". In a larger context some scientists indicate this could be the cause of the phenomenon of sonoluminescence which remains to be understood. See sonoluminescence, vacuum energy, and zero point energy.

Closed System Any system that does not interact with its environment in any way. Strictly speaking this is nearly impossible. However, systems can be created to be so efficiently shielded from their surrounding environment that the interaction with it is minimized and introduces only slight inaccuracies in measuring the nature or performance of that system.

Coefficient of Performance (COP) The ratio of energy given out by a system against that put into the system.

Efficiency A measure of how effectively a system converts input energy into the desired effect the system outputs or produces. For example, for a system where half of the input energy is lost as heat dissipated to the surrounding environment instead of being output as the desired effect we would say that system is only 50% efficient. If 75% of the input energy is output in the desired effect we would say the system is 75% efficient, and so forth. In the case of heat pump systems where existing heat from the environment is gathered and concentrated in the system's output when the heat energy output is 3 times the electrical energy used to run the pump we say the heat pump is 300% efficient.

Entropy See Thermodynamics, Second Law.

Open System Any system which interacts with its surrounding environment. Strictly speaking no system is completely isolated from its surroundings. See closed system.

Perpetual Motion (perpetuum mobile) The property of a device or machine that runs forever, is self-powering and may even produce more energy than it takes to operate it. In closed systems it is universally agreed that this is an impossibility and violates the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

Self-organization The phenomenon whereby a system in disorder spontaneously self-organizes. Perhaps one of the most well-known researchers of this was Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003). Winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Prigogine defined the role of dissipative structures in thermodynamic systems far from equilibrium. He showed how dissipative structures can nevertheless exhibit order when three conditions are met: 1) the system is far from equilibrium; 2) there exists a flow of energy through the system; 3) the material composing the system is characterized by non-linear equations that describe the material's response to influxes of energy.

Sonoluminescence A phenomenon in which ultrasonic sound waves impinging on a liquid cause cavitation or formation of a bubble of gas in which rapid extreme oscillation of the bubble's volume causes the bubble contents to give off light. There are currently a number of theories explaining why this occurs, but no definitive experimentation yet exists to confirm which one gives a complete explanation.

Thermodynamics, First Law This law is referred to as the law of conservation of energy. Simply put, it states that energy is neither created nor destroyed but can be changed from one form to another. It describes an energy bookkeeping approach which says that the original energy existing within a given system plus the energy added to that system from without equal the new internal energy of that system plus the work done by the system. This law applies to both systems that are closed and isolated from the surrounding environment and to those that are not.

Thermodynamics, Second Law This law is generally considered to be a statement about the irreversibility of heat flow from a region having higher temperature to one having lower temperature. The law further indicates reversal of the flow can only occur if work is done on the system from without. Extrapolated to the entire universe this law indicates cosmos will trend irreversibly from a state of order to disorder and that this disorder - also known as entropy - will only increase toward the unavoidable and irreversible heat death of the universe.

Thermodynamics, Zeroth Law In simplest terms it posits that a system whose component parts are at different temperatures will tend toward a state in which those parts are in thermal equilibrium, meaning they eventually become the same temperature.

Vacuum Energy In our current understanding electromagnetic fluctuations are present throughout all cosmos whether matter is present or not.

Zero Point Energy The energy associated with the lowest possible energy state of a system.