The Economic Growth Engine
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The Economic Growth Engine

How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity

Robert U. Ayres and Benjamin Warr

The historic link between output (GDP) growth and employment has weakened. Since there is no quantitively verifiable economic theory to explain past growth, this unique book explores the fundamental relationship between thermodynamics (physical work) and economics.
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Chapter 4: Exergy Conversion to Useful Work

Robert U. Ayres and Benjamin Warr


INTRODUCTION In Chapter 3 we introduced the concept of exergy as a measure of quantity applicable to all materials (including fuels) as well as non-material energy fluxes. In the present chapter we continue the discussion in terms of resource (exergy) conversion efficiency. This leads up to the formulation, in the chapters which follow, of a new – and quantifiable – analytic model to explain past and future economic growth. 4.2 USEFUL WORK Before embarking on a more technical discussion of ‘work’ in the thermodynamic sense, to be distinguished clearly from the ordinary everyday use of the term, it may be helpful to recall some words of one of the pioneers of energy accounting, Nathaniel Guyol. In a paper prepared for a conference in 1984 (but never published as far as we know), he wrote: The convenient correlation of energy (exergy) and national product exists mainly by virtue of the fact that both are related to population and the state of the national economy . . . A proper model of energy consumption must take into account the reasons why energy is used . . . Energy is used to do the work that must be done to supply the goods and services we need or want and can afford. (Guyol 1984; emphasis added) Our use of the term ‘useful work’ in this book is somewhat more technical, and hopefully more precise, than his, but it is consistent with Guyol’s argument. A brief explanation is needed, even though a precise definition is surprisingly elusive. In...

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