Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 3

Peter Shulman, Case Western Reserve

“Engineering Economy: Steam Power and the Politics of Coal in the United States Before Thermodynamics,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Benjamin Stevens was thinking about coal. Round the world cruise 1844-1846
wanted to go to Borneo and find coal island and purchase
American debate about empire
vote to annex Hawaii
argument that this would allow US to build a network of coaling stations
expand navy, and thus commerce and security
if steamers take place of sail there must be coaling stations
focus 1840 and 1860: a new look at coal fired steam power
belief that this would annihilate time and space and >> security
but this fantasy of steam’s sublime power shattered << limited fuel resources
hard to obtain
practical limitations to network builders
Daniel Webster: there appears to be no limit; but even then they were visible
C19 Americans: economy (managing time, money, resources)
the guiding principle behind integrating steam power
very real challenge of fueling coal steamers
empire itself created the need for coaling stations, is his argument
control of foreign land was not how they framed problem at all
long held moral ideas adapted to challenges of fossil energy
look to science and markets to make fuel go farther and faster
economy did not mean efficiency
two very different concepts: Timothy Mitchell, economy as a process not a thing, regulation of household and so on
economy >> “permanent power of being useful and generous” “husbanding resources in the present to ensure sufficiency in the future”
efficiency <> efficacy
Webster 1841 defined almost the same
roots in antiquity (Aristotle)
>> beginnings of modern connotations
>> property of machines, a number measuring actual performance of machine against ideal (1858)
a perfect machine wastes no work. Efficiency fraction of 1
1911: Taylor fully modern sense, worker’s highest state of efficiency as largest daily output
economy much more expansive; it connected machines to wider economies of fuel (desired ends)
Buchanan on the economy of fuel
economy: ideas, judgment, attention to relationships of people and world
cultivation of “the man called to direct” “the wise engineer”
Anthracite coal. Johnson: this will lead to diminution of expense and “the economizing of space and time”
study of coal itself
superior varieties of coal that met demands of steamship engines
chemical composition of coal <> price
wood from different sorts of trees
coal for copper smelting can’t contain large amounts of sulfur
buckmountain coal better for steaming
Walter R. Johnson, a scientist; believed coal was a federal government problem
stake in value >> they should aid in ascertaining true value
Navy call 1842 to miners and mine owners to provide Johnson with samples for comparative analysis
>> rivalry of bituminous and anthracite coal operators
British coal exports came to dominate international markets
massive increases of these exports worldwide
1840s 640 000 tons of coal merely to France alone
turn to engineering to make more efficient
modern science of thermodynamics only in its infancy, not well known in America
instead all about finding all kinds of ship designs given different types of fuel
Eubank’s interest in fish markets: “natural propellers” >> legs of frogs and bat wings etc
>> redesign paddle wheels
senate rejected his request for funding
but it was declared in the senate that “hey, look at the potential efficiency of future machines”
[futurality and machinery]
by early 1850s: thrust discovered to generate enormous friction in screw ships
>> try to reduce friction with rings etc
Parry’s anti-friction rollers 1853
reduced fuel consumption by 25% and shaved 20 minutes from a certain voyage
a Pacific cruiser would thus save $20 000 in three years
Prisson’s steam boiler condenser 1846
then plans for electromagnetic engines and so on
the framework was about limits: even when they did voyage abroad eg to Borneo, Japan, emphasis was on opening foreign markets for a newly desirable economy
help remove sense of inevitability about American imperialism, and economic determinism
express of creative and expansive set of responses; more creative than early C20 imperialists would have believed impossible
economy over empire

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