James Watt’s Steam engine

Engine_watt.svgIts approximately 250 years (last week) since James Watt’s Steam engine was invented and with it the industrial revolution.  James Watt’s Steam engine had a huge advantage that it used a separate condenser.  Up until then the existing engines had one cylinder in which the water was heated up until steam which escaped to power a drive shaft.  The heat exited and then the whole thing had to be heated up again.  This made the whole process very ineffective.  James Watt (out walking) came up with the more efficient process in his head.  Apart from the above modification when the steam exited the separate condenser it produced a partial vacuum as the condenser cooled.  This could be used to pull a piston into the condenser meaning this part of the process could also provide energy.  In total the whole process was three times more efficient meaning coal went three times as far.  James Watt’s Steam engine led to the industrial revolution which started in the UK.

Obviously the industrial revolution has had mixed effects.  The plus sides don’t need to be spelled out, least of all since you can read this blog!  The minus sides include climate change, excessive materialism and and an unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels.

Andy described the problem we face very well in our book.

One of the problems with using alternative energy sources is that most of them suffer a comparative disadvantage in energy density when measured against our current, very energy-rich sources of power. Only a few centuries ago, humankind was burning only
wood and dung for energy, and using hand-labour and draught animals to do work (and of course in many parts of the world people are still doing this). As populations increased, agriculture and demand for firewood cleared the forests and the resulting shortage of wood led to people burning coal. As development continued, the immense energy needs of industrialisation and urbanisation were met by the use of more and more coal, then oil, and more recently gas and nuclear fuel. Each change of energy supply has been to a more concentrated energy source, with the carbon and nuclear fuels we currently use having a very high energy density.


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