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Entropy production delusion

It is common in knowledgeable circles to talk about the development of civilization in terms of entropy discussion. The term 'entropy...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

friction fiction

Students are taught in engineering at university that friction has a small effect so can be largely ignored in assessing how machines operate.  It is one of those simplistic notions that enable what is deemed to be the fundamental picture to be portrayed to students. These students soon learn when they get out into the real world where they have to make sound decisions that friction cannot be ignored. It is ever present. It always ensures that some energy is dissipated as heat. It often ensures material is also transformed into waste. Tribology, the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear covers the types of friction that occur, the use of oil to reduce the impact in some circumstances so the erosion of material by friction.

Friction is not discussed in most considerations of what technology does in providing society with goods and services. The technical people are expected to quietly take these real effects into account in their designs while management and the financial number crunchers tackle the real problem of selling their product to the consumers, who then have to cope with the item wearing out.

This quote "The defining feature of a technological civilization is the capacity to intensively “harvest” energy. But the basic physics of energy, heat and work known as thermodynamics tell us that waste, or what we physicists call entropy, must be generated and dumped back into the environment in the process. Human civilization currently harvests around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy each year and dumps 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the planetary system, which is why the atmosphere is holding more heat and the oceans are acidifying." summarises a biased, unrealistic, view of what always happens in the operation of systems. The process is considered but not what irrevocably happens to the systems.

It is ironical that those seemingly authoritative people who claim that the supply of energy is the problem that society will have to face because all material can be recycled have to replace the tires on their cars because friction has reduced so much of the tread to waste dissipated into the air. They are often aware of the impact of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in dissipating energy in the process of doing (positive) work. They are aware of the action of friction causing wear but do not regard it as the negative work always coupled with positive work even though in some circumstances it is the crucial issue. People trying to walk on a frozen lake learn the hard way of how useful friction can be. And our hearts do positive work in pumping blood againat friction! Birds (and aircaft) can fly only because friction enables lift.

Knowledgeable people will also be aware of the conservation of mass law. But, seemingly, they do not think about the dissipation of waste material because that irrevocable process is commonly regarded as having trivial impact, except when rubbish has to be transported to landfill. They have to understand the grievous mistake of science in not realizing until recently that the combustion of fossil fuels irreversibly transforming hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide gas and water vapor would lead to global warming, so irreversible rapid climate change. The Fischer–Tropsch process is a collection of chemical reactions that enables technology to convert a mixture of carbon dioxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons. It is useful in the fertilizer industry but in no way can it counter the waste emissions of fossil fuel combustion, an irreversible natural process.

There is a need for science to recognize that Laws of Massdynamics often play as big a part in materialistic processes in technological systems as the Laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law is the well known law of conservation of mass but the Second Law, dealing with the transformation of material to waste in the process and in the system, has not yet gained the recognition that is warranted in view of it's impact on what invariably happens in operations in systems.

The emission of waste material (primarily excessive carbon dioxide) from the fossil fuel combustion process is now receiving the attention that is warranted. But what can be done about the waste radio active material from nuclear power stations is a problem that has been place in the too hard basket in a number of countries. Would these problems have been so bad if the Laws of Massdynamics had received the attention in engineering that Laws of Thermodynamics has over recent centuries? The economist Georgescu-Roegen said decades ago the "matter matters too" but his insight into what invariable really happens in materialitic operations was fobbed off.

That systems invariably wear out is common knowledge but the invariable transformation of irreplaceable material in the systems to irrevocable waste is not. The fact that some material can be recycled at appreciable ecological cost does not affect that principle.

This failure to understand this simple principle will contribute to the deleterious impact of the operation of technological systems that are culminating in what will inevitably be called the Devastation Century.

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