Half of our total energy consumption globally is used for the production of heat – for our homes, industrial purposes other applications. Most of this heat comes from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and is responsible for a significant proportion of world pollution.
However, to-date we have seen very little progress across the world in cleaning up how we generate heat – despite the existence of more sustainable and cost-effective solutions. A major reason for this is that the heating systems we have built across much of the world are both costly and troublesome to change, and there are whole piles of government incentives that favour fossil-fueled alternatives. That said, there are lots of environmental pressures which are forcing change – starting with air quality in cities like Beijing and Delhi, as well as global pressures to decarbonise.
Heat’s complexities begin with its physics. Heat is all about the flow of energy and works in three different ways: by convection, by conduction and by radiation. Heat is also governed by two important scientific laws; the first and second laws of thermodynamics. The first law states that energy can not be created or destroyed but just goes from one form to another; the second law states that it is impossible to convert one form of energy to another without some form of heat loss. Some of the greatest losses occur when oil and gas are converted from chemical to heat energy to power an internal combustion engine or a turbine. It is thus critical to either reduce the level of waste heat or to capture that heat for other purposes.
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