We have repeatedly stated that a process cannot take place unless it satisfies both the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Any device that violates either law is called a perpetual-motion machine, and despite numerous attempts, no perpetual-motion machine is known to have worked. But this has not stopped inventors from trying to create new ones.

A device that violates the first law of thermodynamics (by creating energy) is called a perpetual-motion machine of the first kind (PMM1), and a device that violates the second law of thermodynamics is called a perpetual- motion machine of the second kind (PMM2).

clip_image002Consider the steam power plant shown in Fig. 6–34. It is proposed to heat the steam by resistance heaters placed inside the boiler, instead of by the energy supplied from fossil or nuclear fuels. Part of the electricity generated by the plant is to be used to power the resistors as well as the pump. The rest of the electric energy is to be supplied to the electric network as the net work output. The inventor claims that once the system is started, this power plant will produce electricity indefinitely without requiring any energy input from the outside.


Well, here is an invention that could solve the world’s energy problem—if it works, of course. A careful examination of this invention reveals that the sys- tem enclosed by the shaded area is continuously supplying energy to the outside at a rate of Q out + Wnet, out without receiving any energy. That is, this system is creating energy at a rate of Q out + Wnet, out, which is clearly a violation of the first law. Therefore, this wonderful device is nothing more than a PMM1 and does not warrant any further consideration.

Now let us consider another novel idea by the same inventor. Convinced that energy cannot be created, the inventor suggests the following modification that will greatly improve the thermal efficiency of that power plant without violating the first law. Aware that more than one-half of the heat transferred to the steam in the furnace is discarded in the condenser to the environment, the inventor suggests getting rid of this wasteful component and sending the steam to the pump as soon as it leaves the turbine, as shown in Fig. 6–35. This way, all the heat transferred to the steam in the boiler will be converted to work, and thus the power plant will have a theoretical efficiency of 100 percent. The inventor realizes that some heat losses and friction between the moving components are unavoidable and that these effects will hurt the efficiency somewhat, but still expects the efficiency to be no less than 80 percent (as opposed to 40 percent in most actual power plants) for a care- fully designed system.

Well, the possibility of doubling the efficiency would certainly be very tempting to plant managers and, if not properly trained, they would probably give this idea a chance, since intuitively they see nothing wrong with it. A stu- dent of thermodynamics, however, will immediately label this device as a PMM2, since it works on a cycle and does a net amount of work while ex- changing heat with a single reservoir (the furnace) only. It satisfies the first law but violates the second law, and therefore it will not work.

Countless perpetual-motion machines have been proposed throughout his- tory, and many more are being proposed. Some proposers have even gone so far as to patent their inventions, only to find out that what they actually have in their hands is a worthless piece of paper.

Some perpetual-motion machine inventors were very successful in fund- raising. For example, a Philadelphia carpenter named J. W. Kelly collected millions of dollars between 1874 and 1898 from investors in his hydro- pneumatic-pulsating-vacu-engine, which supposedly could push a railroad train 3000 miles on 1 L of water. Of course, it never did. After his death in 1898, the investigators discovered that the demonstration machine was powered by a hidden motor. Recently a group of investors was set to invest $2.5 million into a mysterious energy augmentor, which multiplied whatever power it took in, but their lawyer wanted an expert opinion first. Confronted by the scientists, the “inventor” fled the scene without even attempting to run his demo machine.

Tired of applications for perpetual-motion machines, the U.S. Patent Office decreed in 1918 that it would no longer consider any perpetual-motion ma- chine applications. However, several such patent applications were still filed, and some made it through the patent office undetected. Some applicants whose patent applications were denied sought legal action. For example, in 1982 the U.S. Patent Office dismissed as just another perpetual-motion ma- chine a huge device that involves several hundred kilograms of rotating mag- nets and kilometers of copper wire that is supposed to be generating more electricity than it is consuming from a battery pack. However, the inventor challenged the decision, and in 1985 the National Bureau of Standards finally tested the machine just to certify that it is battery-operated. However, it did not convince the inventor that his machine will not work.

The proposers of perpetual-motion machines generally have innovative minds, but they usually lack formal engineering training, which is very unfortunate. No one is immune from being deceived by an innovative perpetual- motion machine. As the saying goes, however, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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