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Vaclav Smil

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035774

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035774.001.0001

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Preindustrial Prime Movers and Fuels

Preindustrial Prime Movers and Fuels

(p.127) 4 Preindustrial Prime Movers and Fuels
Energy and Civilization

Vaclav Smil

The MIT Press

This chapter discusses the prime movers and fuels that drove advances in manufacturing techniques, including those in metallurgy, in preindustrial societies. Some of the conversions involving prime movers and fuels helped energize the initial stages of modern industrialization. Two principal roads led to higher outputs and better efficiencies: multiplication of small forces, especially with the application of animate energy, and technical innovation, which introduced new energy conversions or increased the efficiencies of established processes. The chapter first considers the kinds, capacities, and limits of all traditional prime movers—human and animal muscles, wind, and water—as well as the combustion of phytomass fuels, mostly wood and charcoal made from it, before analyzing the uses of prime movers and fuels in critical segments of traditional economies: food preparation, provision of heat and light, land and waterborne transportation, construction, and color and ferrous metallurgy.

Keywords:   prime movers, fuels, manufacturing, metallurgy, animate energy, technical innovation, phytomass, food preparation, transportation, construction

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