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Water powered cable trains

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Cable trains (or funiculars) are one of the most energy-efficient modes of transport out there. A large portion of the power required to pull up the ascending car is delivered by the counterweight of the descending car. Many historical systems used this efficiency and took it one step further with …

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The Mechanical Transmission of Power (1): Stangenkunst

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Long-distance power transmission predates the invention of electricity by almost four centuries. From the 1500s onwards, engineers developed mechanical power transmission and distribution technologies, called “Stangenkunsten”, that became ever more sophisticated. Networks of pivoted, wooden field rods conveyed power from water wheels in the valleys to mining machinery up the …

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Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s

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We are being told to eat local and seasonal food, either because other crops have been tranported over long distances, or because they are grown in energy-intensive greenhouses. But it wasn’t always like that. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far …

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Power from the Tap: Water Motors

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Few people in the western world realize that they have an extra power source available in their household, workshop or factory: tap water. Just before the arrival of electricity at the end of the nineteenth century, water motors were widely used in Europe and America. These miniature water turbines were …

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Wood gas vehicles: firewood in the fuel tank

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During the Second World War, almost every motorised vehicle in continental Europe was converted to use firewood. Wood gas cars (also known as producer gas cars) are a not-so-elegant but surprisingly efficient and ecological alternative to their petrol (gasoline) cousins, whilst their range is comparable to that of electric cars. …

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