Empirical technology research

Empirical research by TNT in 2013 aimed at an elucidation of the early or so-called formative phases of technologies, on technology scaling analysis, and on alternative, output-based, measures of technological change. 

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Petrochemical complex

An elucidation of the early or so-called formative phases of technologies via empirical or historical research provides an opportunity to study a key phase of technology evolution. The formative phase not only allows for extensive experimentation with new technological configurations but also for preserving technological diversity. It is also provides an opportunity window for mobilizing new actor networks. 

TNT guest scholar Nuno Bento developed a new framework of multidimensional indicators to allow the multiple dimensions of technology formation and their timing to be delineated [1]. The historical scaling dynamics of new technologies such as general purpose technologies (e.g., steam engines) and small end-use technologies (e.g., cellphones, e-bikes) provided the empirical basis for this research.

In related work, prior research on technology scaling was extended in the direction of large chemical processing technologies. These can be used as analogs of new climate control technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or active atmospheric carbon removal. Dominique Throniker who joined TNT in 2013 as a participant in the IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) also contributed to this work.

Historical research on systems output measures also continued in 2013. These are alternative measures of technological change above traditional measures, such as primary resource inputs or financial expenditures. The working hypothesis is that output-oriented measures of technological change not only provide a more comprehensive picture of the impacts of new technologies, but also a different perspective of the rates of change of large-scale technology systems. This research, which has a focus on the “reconstruction” of historical energy balances at the useful energy output level, was carried out by Simon De Sterke.


[1] Bento N (2013) New evidence in technology scaling dynamics and the role of the formative phase. IIASA Interim Report IR-13-004.

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Last edited: 22 May 2014


Arnulf Grubler

Emeritus Research Scholar

Transitions To New Technologies

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