Thermoeconomics is the name given to a type of heterodox economic theory that attempts to explicitly
apply the principles of thermodynamics to economics. The term "thermoeconomics" was coined in 1962
by American engineer Myron Tribus, and developed by the statistician and economist
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. Thermoeconomics can be thought of as the statistical physics of economic value.
Thermoeconomics is based on the proposition that the role of energy in biological evolution should be defined
and understood through the second law of thermodynamics but in terms of such economic criteria as productivity,
efficiency, and especially the costs and benefits (or profitability) of the various mechanisms for capturing
and utilizing available energy to build biomass and do work. As a result, thermoeconomics are often
discussed in the field of ecological economics,
which itself is related to the fields of sustainability and sustainable development.
In Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt (George Allen & Unwin 1926), Frederick Soddy turned his attention to
the role of energy in economic systems. He criticized the focus on monetary flows in economics, arguing
that “real” wealth was derived from the use of energy to transform materials into physical goods and services.
Soddy’s economic writings were largely ignored in his time, but would later be applied to the development of
bioeconomics and ecological economics in the late 20th century.
Thermoeconomists claim that human economic systems can be modeled as
thermodynamic systems. Then, based on this premise, they attempt to develop
theoretical economic analogs of the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
In addition, the thermodynamic quantity exergy, i.e. measure of the useful work
energy of a system, is the most important measure of value. In thermodynamics,
thermal systems exchange heat, work, and or mass with their surroundings;
in this direction, relations between the energy associated with the production,
distribution, and consumption of goods and services can be determined.
Thermoeconomists argue that economic systems always involve matter,
energy, entropy, and information. Moreover, the aim of many economic
activities is to achieve a certain structure. In this manner,
thermoeconomics attempts to apply the theories in non-equilibrium thermodynamics,
in which structure formations called dissipative structures form,
and information theory, in which information entropy is a central
construct, to the modeling of economic activities in which the natural
flows of energy and materials function to create scarce resources.
In thermodynamic terminology, human economic activity may be described
as a dissipative system, which flourishes by transforming and
exchanging resources, goods, and services.
These processes involve complex networks of flows of energy and materials.
Scientists have speculated on different aspects of energy accounting
for some time as to how it might relate to alternatives in social
systems. Many variations of energy accounting are in use now, as
this issue relates to current (price system) economics directly,
as well as projected models in possible Non-market economics systems.
Exergy analysis is performed in the field of industrial ecology to
use energy more efficiently. The term exergy, was coined by
Zoran Rant in 1956, but the concept was developed by J. Willard Gibbs.
In recent decades, utilization of exergy has spread outside of
physics and engineering to the fields of industrial ecology,
ecological economics, systems ecology, and energetics.