"Electric Power is everywhere present in unlimited quantities and can drive the world's machinery without the need of coal, oil, gas, or any other of the common fuels!"
New York Herald in 1893:
"The plan I have suggested is to disturb by powerful machinery the electricity of the earth, thus setting it in vibration. Proper appliances will be constructed to take up the energy transmitted by these vibrations, transforming them into a suitable form of power to be made available for the practical wants of life."
On Electricity - Commemoration of the introduction of Niagara Falls power in Buffalo, New York, at the Ellicott Club - Electrical Review - January 27, 1897:
"We have to evolve means for obtaining energy from stores which are forever inexhaustible, to perfect methods which do not imply consumption and waste of any material whatever. I now feel
sure that the realization of that idea is not far off. ...the possibilities of the development I refer to, namely, that of the operation of engines on any point of the earth by the energy of the
The Problem of Increasing Human Energy: With Special Reference to the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy" - The Century Magazine - June, 1900.
The third problem: How to increase the force accelerating the human mass - The harnessing of the sun's energy
Of the three possible solutions of the main problem of increasing human energy, this is by far the most important to consider, not only because of its intrinsic significance, but also because of its intimate bearing on all the many elements and conditions which determine the movement of humanity. In order to proceed systematically, it would be necessary for me to dwell on all those considerations which have guided me from the outset in my efforts to arrive at a solution, and which have led me, step by step, to the results I shall now describe. As a preliminary study of the problem an analytical investigation, such as I have made, of the chief forces which determine the onward movement, would be of advantage, particularly in conveying an idea of that hypothetical "velocity" which, as explained in the beginning, is a measure of human energy; but to deal with this specifically here, as I would desire, would lead me far beyond the scope of the present subject. Suffice it to state that the resultant of all these forces is always in the direction of reason, which therefore, determines, at any time, the direction of human movement. This is to say that every effort which is scientifically applied, rational, useful, or practical, must be in the direction in which the mass is moving. The practical, rational man, the observer, the man of business, he who reasons, calculates, or determines in advance, carefully applies his effort so that when coming into effect it will be in the direction of the movement, making it thus most efficient, and in this knowledge and ability lies the secret of his success. Every new fact discovered, every new experience or new element added to our knowledge and entering into the domain of reason, affects the same and, therefore, changes the direction of movement, which, however, must always take place along the resultant of all those efforts which, at that time, we designate as reasonable, that is, self-preserving, useful, profitable, or practical. These efforts concern our daily life, our necessities and comforts, our work and business, and it is these which drive man onward.
But looking at all this busy world about us, on all this complex mass as it daily throbs and moves, what is it but an immense clock-work driven by a spring? In the morning, when we rise, we cannot fail to note that all the objects about us are manufactured by machinery: the water we use is lifted by steam-power; the trains bring our breakfast from distant localities; the elevators in our dwelling and our office building, the cars that carry us there, are all driven by power; in all our daily errands, and in our very life-pursuit, we depend upon it; all the objects we see tell us of it; and when we return to our machine-made dwelling at night, lest we should forget it, all the material comforts of our home, our cheering stove and lamp, remind us of how much we depend on power. And when there is an accidental stoppage of the machinery, when the city is snowbound, or the life sustaining movement otherwise temporarily arrested, we are affrighted to realize how impossible it would be for us to live the life we live without motive power. Motive power means work. To increase the force accelerating human movement means, therefore, to perform more work.
So we find that the three possible solutions of the great problem of increasing human energy are answered by the three words: food, peace, work. Many a year I have thought and pondered, lost myself in speculations and theories, considering man as a mass moved by a force, viewing his inexplicable movement in the light of a mechanical one, and applying the simple principles of mechanics to the analysis of the same until I arrived at these solutions, only to realize that they were taught to me in my early childhood. These three words sound the key-notes of the Christian religion. Their scientific meaning and purpose now clear to me: food to increase the mass, peace to diminish the retarding force, and work to increase the force accelerating human movement. These are the only three solutions which are possible of that great problem, and all of them have one object, one end, namely, to increase human energy. When we recognize this, we cannot help wondering how profoundly wise and scientific and how immensely practical the Christian religion is, and in what a marked contrast it stands in this respect to other religions. It is unmistakably the result of practical experiment and scientific observation which have extended through the ages, while other religions seem to be the outcome of merely abstract reasoning. Work, untiring effort, useful and accumulative, with periods of rest and recuperation aiming at higher efficiency, is its chief and ever-recurring command. Thus we are inspired both by Christianity and Science to do our utmost toward increasing the performance of mankind. This most important of human problems I shall now specifically consider.
The source of human energy - Three ways of drawing energy from the sun
First let us ask: Whence comes all the motive power? What is the spring that drives all? We see the ocean rise and fall, the rivers flow, the wind, rain, hail, and snow beat on our windows, the trains and steamers come and go; we here the rattling noise of carriages, the voices from the street; we feel, smell, and taste; and we think of all this. And all this movement, from the surging of the mighty ocean to that subtle movement concerned in our thought, has but one common cause. All this energy emanates from one single center, one single source—the sun. The sun is the spring that drives all. The sun maintains all human life and supplies all human energy. Another answer we have now found to the above great question: To increase the force accelerating human movement means to turn to the uses of man more of the sun's energy. We honor and revere those great men of bygone times whose names are linked with immortal achievements, who have proved themselves benefactors of humanity—the religious reformer with his wise maxims of life, the philosopher with his deep truths, the mathematician with his formul—, the physicist with his laws, the discover with his principles and secrets wrested from nature, the artist with his forms of the beautiful; but who honors him, the greatest of all,—who can tell the name of him,—who first turned to use the sun's energy to save the effort of a weak fellow-creature? That was man's first act of scientific philanthropy, and its consequences have been incalculable.
From the very beginning three ways of drawing energy from the sun were open to man. The savage, when he warmed his frozen limbs at a fire kindled in some way, availed himself of the energy of the sun stored in the burning material. When he carried a bundle of branches to his cave and burned them there, he made use of the sun's stored energy transported from one to another locality. When he set sail to his canoe, he utilized the energy of the sun applied to the atmosphere or the ambient medium. There can be no doubt that the first is the oldest way. A fire, found accidentally, taught the savage to appreciate its beneficial heat. He then very likely conceived of the idea of carrying the glowing members to his abode. Finally he learned to use the force of a swift current of water or air. It is characteristic of modern development that progress has been effected in the same order. The utilization of the energy stored in wood or coal, or, generally speaking, fuel, led to the steam-engine. Next a great stride in advance was made in energy-transportation by the use of electricity, which permitted the transfer of energy from one locality to another without transporting the material. But as to the utilization of the energy of the ambient medium, no radical step forward has as yet been made known.
The ultimate results of development in these three directions are: first, the burning of coal by a cold process in a battery; second, the efficient utilization of the energy of the ambient medium; and, third the transmission without wires of electrical energy to any distance. In whatever way these results may be arrived at, their practical application will necessarily involve an extensive use of iron, and this invaluable metal will undoubtedly be an essential element in the further development along these three lines. If we succeed in burning coal by a cold process and thus obtain electrical energy in an efficient and inexpensive manner, we shall require in many practical uses of this energy electric motors—that is, iron. If we are successful in deriving energy from the ambient medium, we shall need, both in the obtainment and utilization of the energy, machinery—again, iron. If we realize the transmission of electrical energy without wires on an industrial scale, we shall be compelled to use extensively electric generators—once more, iron. Whatever we may do, iron will probably be the chief means of accomplishment in the near future, possibly more so than in the past. How long its reign will last is difficult to tell, for even now aluminium is looming up as a threatening competitor. But for the time being, next to providing new resources of energy, it is of the greatest importance to making improvements in the manufacture and utilization of iron. Great advances are possible in these latter directions, which, if brought about, would enormously increase the useful performance of mankind.
Energy from the medium - The windmill and solar engine - Motive power from terrestrial heat - Electricity from natural sources
Besides fuel, there is abundant material from which we might eventually derive power. An immense amount of energy is locked up in limestone, for instance, and machines can be driven by liberating the carbonic acid through sulphuric acid or otherwise. I once constructed such an engine, and it operated satisfactorily.
But, whatever our resources of primary energy may be in the future, we must, to be rational, obtain it without consumption of any material. Long ago I came to this conclusion, and to arrive at this result only two ways, as before indicated, appeared possible—either to turn to use the energy of the sun stored in the ambient medium, or to transmit, through the medium, the sun's energy to distant places from some locality where it was obtainable without consumption of material. At that time I at once rejected the latter method as entirely impracticable, and turned to examine the possibilities of the former.
It is difficult to believe, but it is, nevertheless, a fact, that since time immemorial man has had at his disposal a fairly good machine which has enabled him to utilize the energy of the ambient medium. This machine is the windmill. Contrary to popular belief, the power obtainable from wind is very considerable. Many a deluded inventor has spent years of his life in endeavoring to "harness the tides," and some have even proposed to compress air by tide- or wave-power for supplying energy, never understanding the signs of the old windmill on the hill, as it sorrowfully waved its arms about and bade them stop. The fact is that a wave- or tide-motor would have, as a rule, but a small chance of competing commercially with the windmill, which is by far the better machine, allowing a much greater amount of energy to be obtained in a simpler way. Wind-power has been, in old times, of inestimable value to man, if for nothing else but for enabling him, to cross the seas, and it is even now a very important factor in travel and transportation. But there are great limitations in this ideally simple method of utilizing the sun's energy. The machines are large for a given output, and the power is intermittent, thus necessitating the storage of energy and increasing the cost of the plant.
A far better way, however, to obtain power would be to avail ourselves of the sun's rays, which beat the earth incessantly and supply energy at a maximum rate of over four million horsepower per square mile. Although the average energy received per square mile in any locality during the year is only a small fraction of that amount, yet an inexhaustible source of power would be opened up by the discovery of some efficient method of utilizing the energy of the rays. The only rational way known to me at the time when I began the study of this subject was to employ some kind of heat- or thermodynamic-engine, driven by a volatile fluid evaporate in a boiler by the heat of the rays. But closer investigation of this method, and calculation, showed that, notwithstanding the apparently vast amount of energy received from the sun's rays, only a small fraction of that energy could be actually utilized in this manner. Furthermore, the energy supplied through the sun's radiations is periodical, and the same limitations as in the use of the windmill I found to exist here also. After a long study of this mode of obtaining motive power from the sun, taking into account the necessarily large bulk of the boiler, the low efficiency of the heat-engine, the additional cost of storing the energy and other drawbacks, I came to the conclusion that the "solar engine," a few instances excepted, could not be industrially exploited with success.
Another way of getting motive power from the medium without consuming any material would be to utilize the heat contained in the earth, the water, or the air for driving an engine. It is a well-known fact that the interior portions of the globe are very hot, the temperature rising, as observations show, with the approach to the center at the rate of approximately 1 degree C. for every hundred feet of depth. The difficulties of sinking shafts and placing boilers at depths of, say, twelve thousand feet, corresponding to an increase in temperature of about 120 degrees C., are not insuperable, and we could certainly avail ourselves in this way of the internal heat of the globe. In fact, it would not be necessary to go to any depth at all in order to derive energy from the stored terrestrial heat. The superficial layers of the earth and the air strata close to the same are at a temperature sufficiently high to evaporate some extremely volatile substances, which we might use in our boilers instead of water. There is no doubt that a vessel might be propelled on the ocean by an engine driven by such a volatile fluid, no other energy being used but the heat abstracted from the water. But the amount of power which could be obtained in this manner would be, without further provision, very small.
Electricity produced by natural causes is another source of energy which might be rendered available. Lightning discharges involve great amounts of electrical energy, which we could utilize by transforming and storing it. Some years ago I made known a method of electrical transformation which renders the first part of this task easy, but the storing of the energy of lightning discharges will be difficult to accomplish. It is well known, furthermore, that electric currents circulate constantly through the earth, and that there exists between the earth and any air stratum a difference of electrical pressure, which varies in proportion to the height.
In recent experiments I have discovered two novel facts of importance in this connection. One of these facts is that an electric current is generated in a wire extending from the ground to a great height by the axial, and probably also by the translatory, movement of the earth. No appreciable current, however, will flow continuously in the wire unless the electricity is allowed to leak out into the air. Its escape is greatly facilitated by providing at the elevated end of the wire a conducting terminal of great surface, with many sharp edges or points. We are thus enabled to get a continuous supply of electrical energy by merely supporting a wire at a height, but, unfortunately, the amount of electricity which can be so obtained is small.
The second fact which I have ascertained is that the upper air strata are permanently charged with electricity opposite to that of the earth. So, at least, I have interpreted my observations, from which it appears that the earth, with its adjacent insulating and outer conducting envelope, constitutes a highly charged electrical condenser containing, in all probability, a great amount of electrical energy which might be turned to the uses of man, if it were possible to reach with a wire to great altitudes.
It is possible, and even probable, that there will be, in time, other resources of energy opened up, of which we have no knowledge now. We may even find ways of applying forces such as magnetism or gravity for driving machinery without using any other means. Such realizations, though highly improbable, are not impossible. An example will best convey an idea of what we can hope to attain and what we can never attain. Imagine a disk of some homogeneous material turned perfectly true and arranged to turn in frictionless bearings on a horizontal shaft above the ground. This disk, being under the above conditions perfectly balanced, would rest in any position. Now, it is possible that we may learn how to make such a disk rotate continuously and perform work by the force of gravity without any further effort on our part; but it is perfectly impossible for the disk to turn and to do work without any force from the outside. If it could do so, it would be what is designated scientifically as a "perpetuum mobile," a machine creating its own motive power. To make the disk rotate by the force of gravity we have only to invent a screen against this force. By such a screen we could prevent this force from acting on one half of the disk, and the rotation of the latter would follow. At least, we cannot deny such a possibility until we know exactly the nature of the force of gravity. Suppose that this force were due to a movement comparable to that of a stream of air passing from above toward the center of the earth. The effect of such a stream upon both halves of the disk would be equal, and the latter would not rotate ordinarily; but if one half should be guarded by a plate arresting the movement, then it would turn.