Process Innovation and Changes in Industrial Energy Use

Science  10 Feb 1978:
Vol. 199, Issue 4329, pp. 608-614
DOI: 10.1126/science.199.4329.608


American industry in the 19th century switched from wood to coal as its primary energy resource. The history of this switch is reviewed, along with the history of preceding similar trends in Europe and later trends in the switch from coal to oil and gas. Important conceptual advances in the technology of such basic processes as glassmaking, cementmaking, and steelmaking emerged as the switch from wood to coal proceeded in the United States. These advances may have been more important than the relative prices of wood and coal in motivating the conversion of American industry to the use of coal. The historical role of process advances in determining the choice of energy resources suggests that the physics and chemistry of industrial processes may be as important an area of energy research as the various technologies of energy conversion.