For all the issues with gas via fracking, at least it’s not coal. Whine all you want about some “war on coal,” it’s just a lesser fuel, from both a chemical and financial standpoint. Natural gas has been displacing coal since the Eighties- oooh, that tree-hugging Reagan!- due to Wall Street hassles, not so much today’s environmental movement. I’ll get to Wall Street, though.
People who do physics, and in particular thermodynamics, become familiar with condensed matter issues, separate from the rest of the field. Solid-state physics (and to a lesser extent true liquids) have issues versus gases and plasmas. Namely, their enthalpies of fusion, and of vaporization. In street terms, it takes energy to melt a solid into a liquid, and still more energy to vaporize that liquid. Lots of energy.
This matters because only gases burn. Yup, hard for people on the street to understand, but coal itself does not burn; neither does wood or any other solid. Liquids, neither (technically). Condensed matter must be heated to produce volatiles; only then do those volatiles mix with oxygen and burn. That volatilization energy isn’t free, of course- it had to come from the previously-burnt volatiles. This is partly why campfires are hard to light. Coal, wood, and other solids are like land animals, trying to tread water before they can even start paddling forward. Gaseous fuels, though, are like fish, swimming because… they’re fish, and they swim rings around land animals without a thought. Continue reading