Using net-energy system boundaries to study working units of nature

Important new tool for understanding businesses as physical systems AND measuring their total resource demands

The research paper Systems Energy Assessment (SEA) now published as of Oct 2011, with Charlie Hall’s special collection of Biophysical Economics papers New Studies on EROI in Sustainability (MDPI).  The pre-publication copy can be found at the Cornell physics archive, and at the references site, along with other notes.

There are two main findings. One is that if you consider physical causation as a way to trace how energy uses are connected, a business needs to be considered as a whole organization of working parts. At present statistical measures of business energy use treat businesses as just a collection of technologies with no operators or environments. That difference can be measured, and seems to call for a typical increase in the environmental energy use impacts and risk exposures of businesses by about fivefold.

The other main finding is that it seems generally possible, for the first time, to use objective methods to locate the natural organizational boundary of individual net-energy systems in the environment. That allows traditional thermodynamic and net-energy physics analysis and to refer to organizational units of the environment as subjects of natural science.


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