The Problem of Increasing Human Energy – Nikola Tesla

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—THE 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 formula, 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.

GREAT POSSIBILITIES OFFERED BY IRON FOR INCREASING HUMAN PERFORMANCE—ENORMOUS WASTE IN IRON MANUFACTURE.

Iron is by far the most important factor in modern progress. It contributes more than any other industrial product to the force accelerating human movement. So general is the use of this metal, and so intimately is it connected with all that concerns our life, that it has become as indispensable to us as the very air we breathe. Its name is synonymous with usefulness. But, however great the influence of iron may be on the present human development, it does not add to the force urging man onward nearly as much as it might. First of all, its manufacture as now carried on is connected with an appalling waste of fuel—that is, waste of energy. Then, again, only a part of all the iron produced is applied for useful purposes. A good part of it goes to create frictional resistances, while still another large part is the means of developing negative forces greatly retarding human movement. Thus the negative force of war is almost wholly represented in iron. It is impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy the magnitude of this greatest of all retarding forces, but it is certainly very considerable. If the present positive impelling force due to all useful applications of iron be represented by ten, for instance, I should not think it exaggeration to estimate the negative force of war, with due consideration of all its retarding influences and results, at, say, six. On the basis of this estimate the effective impelling force of iron in the positive direction would be measured by the difference of these two numbers, which is four. But if, through the establishment of universal peace, the manufacture of war machinery should cease, and all struggle for supremacy between nations should be turned into healthful, ever active and productive commercial competition, then the positive impelling force due to iron would be measured by the sum of those two, numbers, which is sixteen—that is, this force would have four times its present value. This example is, of course, merely intended to give an idea of the immense increase in the useful performance of mankind which would result from a radical reform of the iron industries supplying the implements of warfare.

A similar inestimable advantage in the saving of energy available to man would be secured by obviating the great waste of coal which is inseparably connected with the present methods of manufacturing iron. In some countries, such as Great Britain, the hurtful effects of this squandering of fuel are beginning to be felt. The price of coal is constantly rising, and the poor are made to suffer more and more. Though we are still far from the dreaded “exhaustion of the coal-fields,” philanthropy commands us to invent novel methods of manufacturing iron, which will not involve such barbarous waste of this valuable material from which we derive at present most of our energy. It is our duty to coming generations to leave this store of energy intact for them, or at least not to touch it until we shall have perfected processes for burning coal more efficiently. Those who are coming after us will need fuel more than we do. We should be able to manufacture the iron we require by using the sun’s energy, without wasting any coal at all. As an effort to this end the idea of smelting iron ores by electric currents obtained from the energy of falling water has naturally suggested itself to many. I have myself spent much time in endeavoring to evolve such a practical process, which would enable iron to be manufactured at small cost. After a prolonged investigation of the subject, finding that it was unprofitable to use the currents generated directly for smelting the ore, I devised a method which is far more economical.

ECONOMICAL PRODUCTION OF IRON BY A NEW PROCESS.

The industrial project, as I worked it out six years ago, contemplated the employment of the electric currents derived from the energy of a waterfall, not directly for smelting the ore, but for decomposing water for a preliminary step. To lessen the cost of the plant, I proposed to generate the currents in exceptionally cheap and simple dynamos, which I designed for this sole purpose. The hydrogen liberated in the electrolytic decomposition was to be burned or recombined with oxygen, not with that from which it was separated, but with that of the atmosphere. Thus very nearly the total electrical energy used up in the decomposition of the water would be recovered in the form of heat resulting from the recombination of the hydrogen. This heat was to be applied to the smelting of ore. The oxygen gained as a by-product of the decomposition of the water I intended to use for certain other industrial purposes, which would probably yield good financial returns, inasmuch as this is the cheapest way of obtaining this gas in large quantities. In any event, it could be employed to burn all kinds of refuse, cheap hydrocarbon, or coal of the most inferior quality which could not be burned in air or be otherwise utilized to advantage, and thus again a considerable amount of heat would be made available for the smelting of the ore. To increase the economy of the process I contemplated, furthermore, using an arrangement such that the hot metal and the products of combustion, coming out of the furnace, would give up their heat upon the cold ore going into the furnace, so that comparatively little of the heat energy would be lost in the smelting. I calculated that probably forty thousand pounds of iron could be produced per horse-power per annum by this method. Liberal allowances were made for those losses which are unavoidable, the above quantity being about half of that theoretically obtainable. Relying on this estimate and on practical data with reference to a certain kind of sand ore existing in abundance in the region of the Great Lakes, including cost of transportation and labor, I found that in some localities iron could be manufactured in this manner cheaper than by any of the adopted methods. This result would be obtained all the more surely if the oxygen obtained from the water, instead of being used for smelting of ore, as assumed, should be more profitably employed. Any new demand for this gas would secure a higher revenue from the plant, thus cheapening the iron. This project was advanced merely in the interest of industry. Some day, I hope, a beautiful industrial butterfly will come out of the dusty and shriveled chrysalis.

The production of iron from sand ores by a process of magnetic separation is highly commendable in principle, since it involves no waste of coal; but the usefulness of this method is largely reduced by the necessity of melting the iron afterward. As to the crushing of iron ore, I would consider it rational only if done by water-power, or by energy otherwise obtained without consumption of fuel. An electrolytic cold process, which would make it possible to extract iron cheaply, and also to mold it into the required forms without any fuel consumption, would, in my opinion, be a very great advance in iron manufacture. In common with some other metals, iron has so far resisted electrolytic treatment, but there can be no doubt that such a cold process will ultimately replace in metallurgy the present crude method of casting, and thus obviating the enormous waste of fuel necessitated by the repeated heating of metal in the foundries.

Up to a few decades ago the usefulness of iron was based almost wholly on its remarkable mechanical properties, but since the advent of the commercial dynamo and electric motor its value to mankind has been greatly increased by its unique magnetic qualities. As regards the latter, iron has been greatly improved of late. The signal progress began about thirteen years ago, when I discovered that in using soft Bessemer steel instead of wrought iron, as then customary, in an alternating motor, the performance of the machine was doubled. I brought this fact to the attention of Mr. Albert Schmid, to whose untiring efforts and ability is largely due the supremacy of American electrical machinery, and who was then superintendent of an industrial corporation engaged in this field. Following my suggestion, he constructed transformers of steel, and they showed the same marked improvement. The investigation was then systematically continued under Mr. Schmid’s guidance, the impurities being gradually eliminated from the “steel” (which was only such in name, for in reality it was pure soft iron), and soon a product resulted which admitted of little further improvement.