Promethean – the Power of Fossil Fuel

What is our insatiable lust for fossil fuels if not our own innate heterotrophy gone mad.  Its a societal scale expression of our own metabolism.




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Work is the energy transferred to or from an object via the application of force along a displacement. It is represented by joules.

Power is joules *per second*, in other words, it is energy transferred over time.

You can cook that chicken slowly in the oven, transferring energy slowly. Or you can slap all that energy into a chicken instantly! That is power.

Coal, oil and gas store a lot of energy. But also, via combustion, that energy can be released fast.

That power is great for driving cars but also tractors, airplanes, massive shipping vessels. And for heating iron fast enough to melt it and to make steel.

The fossil fuel era must end. Urgently. ~4 billion years of life on Earth bequeathed us a fantastic source of energy and power.

But sucking it out of the ground or digging it up did not ask much of human creativity. We exploited it rather than leveraging it for tomorrow.

To move past fossil fuels, we must recognise that alternatives exist but not pretend they are easy. It requires creativity, ingenuity, investment and change.

We should have started long ago. We accelerate now. We can do this but we have to move with far greater urgency.

From Andrew Dressler: “Filling a 20-gallon tank in 4 min. corresponds to 2.6 GJ of energy in 240 sec. That means that, when you fill your car’s tank, you’re putting energy in at a rate of 10 MW!  Given that the fastest EV chargers provide energy at a rate of ~250 kW, this means that EV’s (at best) take on power at a rate around 1/40th as fast as you put gas in your car.  This might sound like an unbeatable advantage for gas, but it’s not for 2 reasons. First, cars are very inefficient — for every 5 J of energy you put in the tank, only ~1 J goes to drive the wheels. The other 4 J are ejected out the tailpipe as heat. For EVs, nearly 100% of the joules of energy you put into the battery end up driving the wheels. Thus, the real comparison is 20% of 10 MW = 2 MW vs. 250 kW. This might still seem like a big deal, but it’s not because … The second reason this is not a big deal is that (for most people): you leave your home every morning with a full battery and you recharge overnight (at around 10 kW) while you sleep. As long as you’re just driving around town, you never have to spend time refueling.”

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