Monday, September 8, 2008

Energy and our Lives

by Izzy Doroski

Everyday when you wake up you enter a world of energy dependence. You may not think about it but your whole world revolves around energy production and consumption. You are a macromolecular machine that must consume energy to survive and be productive in this world. You may be surprised to learn that just as your car consumes hydrocarbons to produce energy you too consume hydrocarbons to give you energy. The hydrocarbons are different but they do have many similarities to each other.

Hydrocarbons are short to long chains of carbon atoms atomically bonded together that also have hydrogen atoms bonded on each of the carbon atoms in the molecular chains. The hydrocarbons that we eat (and enjoy) that give us energy include sugars, starches, proteins and fats. Each day a normal person doing moderate activity uses about 3000 Calories of food energy. One food Calorie (1 kcal or 1,000 calories) is the amount of digestively available food energy (heat) that will raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius. This is equal to 12000 BTUs of energy or 3.5 Kilowatt-hours of power or 145.4 watts/hr. This is a remarkable finding that 3000 Calories of food energy provides you with 3.5 Kilowatt-hours of power from food to power you throughout your entire 24 hour day. You are probably saying WOW. This is so because your body contains mitochondria within our cells that are the powerhouses of the body that convert the consumed hydrocarbons into available energy for you to function throughout the day.

A mitochondria powered human system is an extremely efficient system of producing energy. And this is the energy that has powered the human race up until the discovery of alternate sources of energy for the development of our society. It is estimated by anthropologists that the first use of fire was by ancient hominid species (prehumans) about 1.5 million years ago in South Africa. Our ancestors used wood, plant cellulose and dung to create fire for cooking, lighting and heating up until the first uses of oil which was probably in the form of plant & animal oils.

Within the last 2000 years the discovery of “rock oil” (petroleum), natural gas and coal was a turning point in human history. The amount of energy that could be produced from natural gas, coal and oil provided society with a quantum leap in industrial and agricultural development. This separated energy production from agricultural production and provided a fast track to modern development that you see today. This also created the negative effects of the exponential growth of the human population. This includes our dependence on these fossils fuels and pollution from their use.

Our dependence on fossil fuels has now become a “genie out of the bottle” problem that is of a much higher magnitude than anyone can imagine. This problem is a turning point in human history, an amazing event that will challenge the limits to our technology and our social structure. I will discuss this problem and all its implications in my next article to come. I will end this segment by quoting the great twentieth century scientist ~ Nikola Tesla.

“Science is but a perversion of itself unless it has as its ultimate goal the betterment of humanity."

No comments: