Category:Thermodynamic Efficiencies

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Research project to calculate the potential reduction in the use of materials and energy for our production systems, if the peer production stack would be applied integratively. Our general claim is that commons-based peer production, with its intensive mutualization of knowledge and material infrastructures, is a key ingredient to achieve Quasi-Circular Growth, and "subsidiarity in material production'. The latter, producing closer to the place of human need, combines 'Design Global, Manufacture Local' (DGML) to achieve the Cosmo-Localization of production. It is distinguishable from neoliberal globalization, nation-state economic protectionism, but also from simple localization strategies.

Our key research project on the Thermodynamic Efficiencies of Peer Production, a complement to the ongoing efforts of our P2P Lab, fully takes into account the Jevons Paradox, i.e. without structural reforms, thermodynamic gains are useless. What we aim for therefore, is Perma-Circularity, i.e. a systemic approach of the circular economy to the system as a whole.

This Thermodynamic Efficiencies of Peer Production is a joint research project by the P2P Foundation and the Blaqswans Collective, coordinated by Xavier Rizos and Celine Trefle.

Provisional and 'rough' documentation via [1].

Key Reports by the P2P Foundation

  • Report: Peer to Peer and the Commons: a path towards transition. A matter, energy and thermodynamic perspective. Céline Piques and Xavier Rizos. P2P Foundation, 2017.


See: Thermodynamic Perspectives on Peer to Peer and the Commons as a Path Towards Transition

Our key report introducing a global infrastructive for collaborative production

* P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival: Towards a P2P Infrastructure for a Socially Just Circular Society. By Michel Bauwens and Alex Pazaitis. Foreword by Kate Raworth. P2P Foundation, 2019.

URL = Draft text ; draft illustrations

How shared perma-circular supply chains, post-blockchain distributed ledgers, protocol cooperatives, and three new forms of post-capitalist accounting, could very well save the planet.


The aim of this project is to calculate the 'savings' that could be obtained through a full use of peer production as the mode of production and exchange, and to quantify some of the following effects:

1) moving artificial scarcity driven design (generalized planned obsolescence) to global open design communities and their sustainability driven motives saves x percent of matter and energy

2) moving towards more shared physical infrastructures saves x percent of matter and energy

3) moving to open supply chains and open book accounting and its speed up effect on circular economy integration saves x percent of matter and energy

4) moving to a cosmo-localized production (4a) for on demand (4b) distributed production saves x percent of matter and energy

Please read: James Quilligan on Carrying Capacity as a Basis for Political and Economic Self-Governance.

Jason Moore's work on World-Ecology

Natural Step's proposed scientific definition of a sustainable society

"In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing …

… concentrations of substances from the earth’s crust (such as fossil CO2 and heavy metals),

… concentrations of substances produces by society (such as antibiotics and endocrine disruptors),

… degradation by physical means (such as deforestation and draining of groundwater tables),

…and in that society … … there are no structural obstacles to people’s health, influence, competence, impartiality and meaning." (

Potential background documentation of interest

  • Open Source Circular Economy: "from the current linear system (we take resources out of the ground, and transform them into (often hazardous) waste. We consume and destroy our own planet faster than it can possibly recover) to a circular economy in tune with the cycles in the natural world.


  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): “regulatory principle based on the life-cycle approach, and aims to implement ownership patterns that encourage stewardship and conservation of resources.” [4]


"The defining question of our age is not whether we can achieve the impossibility of sustaining more than nine billion people on a western industrial model of development, but how to deliver prosperous lives for the global population within the regenerative biocapacity of one planet."

- Sharon Ede [5]

The Two Criteria to Increase the Health of the Planet

"Valerie Brown lists two criteria that should guide human behaviour if we hope to avoid serious damage to the natural processes that maintain systemic health. We need to i) “consume nature’s flows while conserving the stocks (that is, live off the ‘interest’ while conserving natural capital” and ii) “increase society’s stocks (human resources, civil institutions) and limit the flow of material and energy” (Brown et al., 2005). Both are central aspects of a regenerative culture."

- Valerie Brown (as summarized by Daniel Christian Wahl) [6]

Without Structural Reforms, Increased Efficiencies are Useless

"Gains in resource and energy efficiency have never led to a sustained decrease in humanity’s raw materials and raw fuels consumption with a stationary level of GDP. Invariably, in waves, the engineers’ contribution to shop-floor efficiency in production processes have been used by the businesses that employ these engineers to save on costs so as to be able to produce and sell more. In fact, what we call economic growth is the long history of the diversion of efficiency gains into production increases. And quite often, this also ends up leading to more, rather than less, raw material extraction and consumption. If any engineer ever had the illusion that they would be working to improve the world through efficiency, he or she should think again — and take a good, hard look at how businesses and industries are, by the very logic of single-minded profit-seeking that moves them, hijacking the efficiency gains and transforming them (when 'successful') into gains in sales and in profits, and usually also into increases in global resource consumption. More fuel-efficient automobiles or airplanes, for instance, are a total scam — not in themselves or as feats of cutting-edge engineering, but because they make driving or flying cheaper per kilometer, so that all of us car or airline users can do more kilometers than before with a 'clean conscience', all the while helping companies reap profits from diverting their engineers’ well-meaning micro-level efforts into ecologically deleterious impacts at the macro level."

- Christian Arnsperger [7], 22/06/16

Peter Pogany on the Emergence of a Third, Thermo-Dynamically Stable, Global System


""History has recorded two distinct global systems thus far: “laissez faire/metal money,” which spanned most of the 19th century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I, and “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” which began after 1945 and exists today. The period between the two systems, 1914-1945, was a chaotic transition. This evolutionary pulsation is well known to students of thermodynamics. It corresponds to the behavior of expanding and complexifying material systems. The exhaustion of oil and other natural resources is pushing the world toward a third global system that may be called “two-level economy/strong multilateralism.” It will be impossible to get there without a new chaotic transition. No repeated warnings, academic advice, moral advocacy, inspired reforms, or political leadership can provide a shortcut around it. But if it took “1914-1945″ to make a relatively minor adjustment in the global order, what will it take to make a major one?” (


"His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s." (


Thermo-Dynamic Cycles in Human History

Via Integral Permaculture: [9]

  • Gebser looked at human history in terms of Epochs with wave like movements, very much like Odum’s model. In mythic, oceanic reasoning, there was always a return, never a progression. More like cycles and less like development. Gebser saw Epochs developing through four stages from Defficient to Latent to Efficient back to Defficient.
  • Perhaps there are parallels to Holling’s Four Phase Model of Ecosystems, from Pioneer to Conservation to Collapse/Release to Reorganization.
  • Odum, following Holling, spoke of Four Stages of the Growth Cycle: 1) Growth; 2) Climax and Transition; 3) Descent; and 4) Low Energy Restoration.


Key Resources

Key Articles

* James Quilligan: Why Biocapacity Accountability Needs To Replace Disembodied Supply and Demand Pricing

here:, an excellent summary critique of the limitations of the Circular Economy;

[11]: "The paper ultimately reflects on what role society can realistically assign to technology for resolving its ecological concerns. While environmental engineering undoubtedly has something to offer, it will end up chasing its tail if the social and economic forces driving up production and consumption are not addressed."

On the general ecological crisis of humanity

* Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene: Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies.

  • Steffen et al. (2015) Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 13 Feb 2015: Vol. 347, Issue 6223, 1259855 DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855
  • Ceballos et al. (2015) Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances 19 Jun 2015: Vol. 1, no. 5, e1400253 ; DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400253
  • Key and must-read essay on the Ecological Transition in China: Richard Smith, “China’s drivers and planetary ecological collapse”, real-world economics review, issue no. 82, 13 December 2017, pp. 2-28, [12]

Supply-chain and transportation costs

  • How Hyper-competition leads to inefficiencies in the supply-chain [13]

The Energy basis of our economy and civilization

Four crucial studies, summarized here:

and yet:


Key Books

* John Thackara's Thermodynamic Bibliography: 13 suggestions, the best book and resources for understanding the biophysical limits of the human economy.


* A Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies. By Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth C. Odum. University Press of Colorado, 2001.

"Consider the future with less fossil fuel and no new natural or technological energy sources. How can it be peaceful and prosperous? More and more leaders concerned with the global future are warning of the impending crisis as the surge of unsustainable growth exceeds the capability of the earth's resources to support our civilisation. But while history records the collapse of countless civilisations, some societies and ecosystems have managed to descend in orderly stages, reducing demands and selecting and saving what is most important. Although some scientists predict disaster, this book shows how our world can still thrive and prosper in a future where we live with less and charts a way for our modern civilisation to descend to sustainable levels. The authors make recommendations for a more equitable and co-operative world society, with specific suggestions based upon their evaluations of trends in global population, wealth distribution, energy sources, conservation, urban development, capitalism and international trade, information technology, and education. This thoughtful and provocative book will force us to confront our assumptions and beliefs about our world's future, which is all too often taken for granted." (publisher)

* Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy. By Howard Odum. Columbia University Press, 2007.

"Howard T. Odum possessed one of the most innovative minds of the twentieth century. He pioneered the fields of ecological engineering, ecological economics, and environmental accounting, working throughout his life to better understand the interrelationships of energy, environment, and society and their importance to the well-being of humanity and the planet.

This volume is a major modernization of Odum's classic work on the significance of power and its role in society, bringing his approach and insight to a whole new generation of students and scholars. For this edition Odum refines his original theories and introduces two new measures: emergy and transformity. These concepts can be used to evaluate and compare systems and their transformation and use of resources by accounting for all the energies and materials that flow in and out and expressing them in equivalent ability to do work. Natural energies such as solar radiation and the cycling of water, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are diagrammed in terms of energy and emergy flow. Through this method Odum reveals the similarities between human economic and social systems and the ecosystems of the natural world. In the process, we discover that our survival and prosperity are regulated as much by the laws of energetics as are systems of the physical and chemical world." (publisher)

Recent Books


"Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order. His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s." [20]

  • Classical Econophysics. By by Allin F. Cottrell (with contributions by Paul Cockshott, Gregory John Michaelson and Ian P. Wright. Routledge, 2011

Routledge, 2014

Key Research Projects

P2P Foundation Network


Individual Researchers

  1. Cindy Kohtala
  2. Vasilis Kostakis
  3. Jose Ramos
  4. Xavier Rizos
  5. Anna Seravalli
  6. John Thackara
  7. Celine Trefle
  8. Alekos Pantazis
  9. Christina Priavolou


Individual Researchers

Compiled via [22]:

  • Aguinaldo Dos Santos <[email protected]> ; Distributed Design & Distributed Manufacturing [23]; Curitiba, Brazil
  • Andrea Broom <[email protected]> ; Distributed Renewable Energy, Distributed Manufacturing, Distributed production of Software, and Distributed production of Information [24] ; (CPUT), Cape Town, South Africa
  • Sandra Molina <[email protected]>; Distributed Design & Distributed Manufacturing ; (UAM) Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, Mexico

Key Statistics

[25]: resources have peaked or will peak within 50 years.

The Circular Economy is only sustainable under 1% raw material consumption growth

Post-Growth Institute, by Sharon Ede:

"In 2011, a study commissioned by the CEO of Veolia was published in a peer-reviewed journal focused on sustainability, with the objective of assessing the business opportunities of the circular economy and recycling. It found that the ability to ‘decouple’ is only possible if the total annual raw material consumption growth rate is under one percent, and that ‘the influence of recycling on resource preservation is negligible for any raw material with a greater than 2% per annum increase in world production’.

Even then, growth in material consumption kept below that rate is still insufficient to decouple, and requires a high rate of recycling (60% – 80%). Economist and Professor of Sustainability and Economic Anthropology Christian Arnsperger of the University of Lausanne analyses what this means:

Efficiency gains…become themselves the ‘raw material’ for generating new economic growth thanks to lower raw material requirements…and it explains why the circular growth economy attracts so much enthusiasm among businesspeople and industrialists: The mirage is that of perpetually expanding markets along with perpetually contracting raw material consumption…we have no use for a pseudo-circular metabolism that is actually a steadily widening spiral: circling, yes, but spinning slowly out of control nevertheless, in ever-broader circles of ever-growing circumference. We need a genuinely circular metabolism…one that doesn’t spiral outward but, rather, promises to keep the same circumference… " (

Global Footprint Network: biophysical accounts of over 200 countries

Post-Growth Institute, by Sharon Ede:

"Biophysical accounts for over 200 countries dating back to 1961 maintained by the Global Footprint Network show that humanity uses around 1.5 planets’ worth of bioproductive space, meaning the Earth takes one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. If population and consumption trends continue on their current trajectory, we will need the equivalent of two Earths by 2030. There are billions of people whose material living standard needs to increase, and many who wish to emulate consumerist lifestyles, yet we are already in overshoot — using more human demand on nature’s capacity exceeds what nature can supply." (

Intensive Industries costing society 10% of GDP

"A ground breaking report commissioned by the United Nations in 2013; ‘Natural Capital at Risk‘ found that our most environmentally intensive business sectors - cement, chemicals, energy, farming, fishing, forestry, mining, paper, steel and utilities - were costing society around $7.3 trillion a year (more than 10% of global GDP) in pollution-related health costs, natural resource degradation and climate change impacts."

- Alastair MacGregor [26]

Key People

Biophysical Economics

  1. Podolinsky
  2. Frederick Soddy
  3.  Alfred Lotka
  4. W. Fred Cottrell
  5.  M. King Hubbert
  6. Howard T. Odum
  7. Robert Costanza
  8. Earl Cook
  9. Robert Ayres
  10. Herman E. Daly
  11. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

Key Research Projects

Pages in category "Thermodynamic Efficiencies"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 240 total.

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