What is Energy

The Sun

The Sun generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second.
Source: hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu

The term energy is very very broad and it has many definitions. Technically, energy is a scalar physical quantity that is associated with the state of one or more objects. Energy is generally defined as the potential to do work or produce heat. Sometimes it is like the “currency” for performing work. You must have energy to accomplish work. To do 1 kilojoule of work, you must expend 1 kilojoule of energy. It must be added, this interpretation can be misleading because energy is not necessarily available to do work.

One of the most wonderful properties of the universe is that energy can be transformed from one type to another and transferred from one object to another. Moreover, when transformed from one type to another and transferred from one object to another, the total amount of energy is always the same. It is one of the elementary properties of the universe.

For example, burning gasoline to power cars is an energy conversion process we rely on. The chemical energy in gasoline is converted to thermal energy, which is then converted to mechanical energy that makes the car move. The mechanical energy has been converted to kinetic energy. When we use the brakes to stop a car, that kinetic energy is converted by friction back to heat, or thermal energy.

Forms of Energy

Energy exists in many forms. Common energy forms include mechanical energy that is classically divided into kinetic and potential energy. The kinetic energy is related to the velocity of a moving object. The potential energy is related to an object’s position in a force field (gravitational, electric or magnetic). Tension in a spring or surface film tension are other forms of potential mechanical energy (elastic energy). There are many other forms of energy including electrical, magnetical, chemical, and nuclear energy.

In thermodynamics the concept of energy is broadened to account for other observed changes. Thermodynamics deals with another type of energy called “thermal energy” or “internal energy”. The only ways the energy of a closed system can be changed are through transfer of energy by work or by heat. Further, based on the experiments of Joule and others, a fundamental aspect of the energy concept is that energy is conserved. This principle is known as the first law of thermodynamics. In general energy is a fundamental concept of thermodynamics and one of the most significant aspects of engineering analysis.

In physics, mechanical energy (Emech) is the energy associated with the motion and position of an object usually in some force field (e.g. gravitational field). Mechanical energy (and also the thermal energy) can be separated into two categories, transient and stored. Transient energy is energy in motion, that is, energy being transferred from one place to another. Stored energy is the energy contained within a substance or object. Transient mechanical energy is commonly referred to as work. Stored mechanical energy exists in one of two forms: kinetic or potential.
The kinetic energy, K, is defined as the energy stored in an object because of its motion. An object in motion has the ability to do work and thus can be said to have energy. It is called kinetic energy, from the Greek word kinetikos, meaning “motion.”

The kinetic energy depends on the speed of an object and is the ability of a moving object to do work on other objects when it collides with them. On the other hand, the kinetic energy of an object represents the amount of energy required to increase the velocity of the object from rest (v = 0) to its final velocity. The kinetic energy also depends linearly on the mass, which is a numerical measure of object’s inertia and the measure of an object’s resistance to acceleration when a force is applied.

We define the quantity:

K = ½ mv2

to be the translational kinetic energy of the object. It must be added, it is called the “translational” kinetic energy to distinguish it from rotational kinetic energy

Potential energy, U, is defined as the energy stored in an object subjected to a conservative force. Common types include the gravitational potential energy, the elastic potential energy of an extended spring, and the electric potential energy of an electric charge in an electric field and so on.

In classical mechanics, the gravitational potential energy (U) is energy an object possesses because of its position in a gravitational field. Gravitational potential (V; the gravitational energy per unit mass) at a location is equal to the work (energy transferred) per unit mass that would be needed to move the object from a fixed reference location to the location of the object. The most common use of gravitational potential energy is for an object near the surface of the Earth where the gravitational acceleration can be assumed to be constant at about 9.8 m/s2.

U = mgh

In thermodynamics, internal energy (also called the thermal energy) is defined as the energy associated with microscopic forms of energy. It is an extensive quantity, it depends on the size of the system, or on the amount of substance it contains. The SI unit of internal energy is the joule (J). It is the energy contained within the system, excluding the kinetic energy of motion of the system as a whole and the potential energy of the system. Microscopic forms of energy include those due to the rotation, vibration, translation, and interactions among the molecules of a substance. None of these forms of energy can be measured or evaluated directly, but techniques have been developed to evaluate the change in the total sum of all these microscopic forms of energy.

In addition, energy is can be stored in the chemical bonds between the atoms that make up the molecules. This energy storage on the atomic level includes energy associated with electron orbital states, nuclear spin, and binding forces in the nucleus.

In thermodynamics, the enthalpy is a measurement of energy in a thermodynamic system. It is the thermodynamic quantity equivalent to the total heat content of a system. The enthalpy is defined to be the sum of the internal energy E plus the product of the pressure p and volume V. In many thermodynamic analyses the sum of the internal energy U and the product of pressure p and volume V appears, therefore it is convenient to give the combination a name, enthalpy, and a distinct symbol, H.

The enthalpy is the preferred expression of system energy changes in many chemical, biological, and physical measurements at constant pressure. It is so useful that it is tabulated in the steam tables along with specific volume and specific internal energy. It is due to the fact, it simplifies the description of energy transfer. At constant pressure, the enthalpy change equals the energy transferred from the environment through heating (Q = H2 – H1) or work other than expansion work. For a variable-pressure process, the difference in enthalpy is not quite as obvious.

In thermodynamics and statistical physics, entropy is a quantitative measure of disorder, or of the energy in a system to do work.

In statistical physics, entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system. What disorder refers to is really the number of microscopic configurations, W, that a thermodynamic system can have when in a state as specified by certain macroscopic variables (volume, energy, pressure, and temperature). By “microscopic states”, we mean the exact states of all the molecules making up the system.

Mathematically, the exact definition is:

Entropy = (Boltzmann’s constant k) x logarithm of number of possible states

S = kB logW

This equation, which relates the microscopic details, or microstates, of the system (via W) to its macroscopic state (via the entropy S), is the key idea of statistical mechanics. In a closed system, entropy never decreases, so in the Universe entropy is irreversibly increasing. In an open system (for example, a growing tree), entropy can decrease and order can increase, but only at the expense of an increase in entropy somewhere else (e.g. in the Sun).

In thermodynamics, the Gibbs free energy is a thermodynamic potential that is defined as the enthalpy of the system minus the product of the temperature times the entropy of the system. Since the enthalpy is defined to be the sum of the internal energy E plus the product of the pressure p and volume V.
Electrical energy is the energy derived from electric potential energy or kinetic energy. A typical nuclear power plant has an electric-generating capacity of 1000 MWe. It produces 1 000 000 000 joules of electrical energy per second. The heat source in the nuclear power plant is a nuclear reactor. As is typical in all conventional thermal power stations the heat is used to generate steam which drives a steam turbine connected to a generator which produces electricity. The turbines are heat engines and are subject to the efficiency limitations imposed by the second law of thermodynamics. In modern nuclear power plants the overall thermodynamic efficiency is about one-third (33%), so 3000 MWth of thermal power from the fission reaction is needed to generate 1000 MWe of electrical power.

Since voltage is electric potential energy per unit charge, the Kirchhoff’s voltage law can be seen to be a consequence of conservation of electrical energy. Kirchhoff’s voltage law states:

The algebraic sum of the voltages (drops or rises) encountered in traversing any loop of a circuit in a specified direction must be zero.

The algebraic sum of the voltages (drops or rises) encountered in traversing any loop of a circuit in a specified direction must be zero.


Simply, the voltage changes around any closed loop must sum to zero. The sum of the voltage rises is equal to the sum of the voltage drops in a loop. No matter what path you take through an electric circuit, if you return to your starting point you must measure the same voltage, constraining the net change around the loop to be zero. This rule is equivalent to saying that each point on a mountain has only one elevation above sea level. If you start from any point and return to it after walking around the mountain, the algebraic sum of the changes in elevation that you encounter must be zero.

In physics, radiant energy is the energy of electromagnetic and gravitational radiation. The term “radiant energy” is most commonly used in the fields of radiometry, solar energy, heating and lighting. As energy, its SI unit is the joule (J). The quantity of radiant energy may be calculated by integrating radiant flux with respect to time. Radiant heat transfer is very important in power industry, because it is one of the most important ways , how thermal energy can be transferred. It does not need a medium, such as air or metal, to take place. Any material that has a temperature above absolute zero gives off some radiant energy. Most energy of this type is in the infra-red region of the electromagnetic spectrum although some of it is in the visible region.

Radiant heat transfer rate from a body (e.g. a black body) to its surroundings is proportional to the fourth power of the absolute temperature and can be expressed by the following equation:

q =  εσT4

where σ is a fundamental physical constant called the Stefan–Boltzmann constant, which is equal to 5.6697×10-8 W/m2K4. This relationship is called the Stefan–Boltzmann law. The emissivity, ε, of the surface of a material is its effectiveness in emitting energy as thermal radiation and varies between 0.0 and 1.0. By definition, a black body in thermal equilibrium has an emissivity of ε = 1.0. It can be seen, radiation heat transfer is important at very high temperatures and in a vacuum.

Two bodies that radiate toward each other have a net heat flux between them. The net flow rate of heat between them is given by:

Q = εσA1-2(T41 −T42)  [J/s]

q =  εσ(T41 −T42) [J/m2s]

The area factor A1-2, is the area viewed by body 2 of body 1, and can become fairly difficult to calculate.

Ionization energy, also called ionization potential, is the energy necessary to remove an electron from the neutral atom.

X + energy → X+ + e

where X is any atom or molecule capable of being ionized, X+ is that atom or molecule with an electron removed (positive ion), and e is the removed electron.

There is an ionization energy for each successive electron removed. The electrons that circle the nucleus move in fairly well-defined orbits. Some of these electrons are more tightly bound in the atom than others. For example, only 7.38 eV is required to remove the outermost electron from a lead atom, while 88,000 eV is required to remove the innermost electron.

  • Ionization energy is lowest for the alkali metals which have a single electron outside a closed shell.
  • Ionization energy increases across a row on the periodic maximum for the noble gases which have closed shells.

For example, sodium requires only 496 kJ/mol or 5.14 eV/atom to ionize it. On the other hand neon, the noble gas, immediately preceding it in the periodic table, requires 2081 kJ/mol or 21.56 eV/atom.

The ionization energy associated with removal of the first electron is most commonly used. The nth ionization energy refers to the amount of energy required to remove an electron from the species with a charge of (n-1).

1st ionization energy

X → X+ + e

2nd ionization energy

X+ → X2+ + e

3rd ionization energy

X2+ → X3+ + e

For example, only 7.38 eV is required to remove the outermost electron from a lead atom, while 88,000 eV is required to remove the innermost electron.

Ionization energy

Source: wikipedia.org License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Nuclear energy comes either from spontaneous nuclei conversions or induced nuclei conversions. Among these conversions (nuclear reactions) belong for example nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion. Conversions are associated with mass and energy changes. One of the striking results of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that mass and energy are equivalent and convertible, one into the other. Equivalence of the mass and energy is described by Einstein’s famous formula:


Reactor Physics and Thermal Hydraulics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. Todreas Neil E., Kazimi Mujid S. Nuclear Systems Volume I: Thermal Hydraulic Fundamentals, Second Edition. CRC Press; 2 edition, 2012, ISBN: 978-0415802871
  6. Zohuri B., McDaniel P. Thermodynamics in Nuclear Power Plant Systems. Springer; 2015, ISBN: 978-3-319-13419-2
  7. Moran Michal J., Shapiro Howard N. Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics, Fifth Edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-470-03037-0
  8. Kleinstreuer C. Modern Fluid Dynamics. Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4020-8670-0.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, THERMODYNAMICS, HEAT TRANSFER, AND FLUID FLOW. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1, 2 and 3. June 1992.

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