An adiabatic process is a thermodynamic process, in which there is no heat transfer into or out of the system (Q = 0). The system can be considered to be perfectly insulated. In an adiabatic process, energy is transferred only as work. The assumption of no heat transfer is very important, since we can use the adiabatic approximation only in very rapid processes. In these rapid processes, there is not enough time for the transfer of energy as heat to take place to or from the system.
In real devices (such as turbines, pumps, and compressors) heat losses and losses in the combustion process occur, but these losses are usually low in comparison to overall energy flow and we can approximate some thermodynamic processes by the adiabatic process.
Free Expansion – Joule Expansion
These are adiabatic processes in which no transfer of heat occurs between the system and its environment and no work is done on or by the system. These types of adiabatic processes are called free expansion. It is an irreversible process in which a gas expands into an insulated evacuated chamber. It is also called Joule expansion. For an ideal gas, the temperature doesn’t change (see: Joule’s Second Law), however, real gases experience a temperature change during free expansion. In free expansion Q = W = 0, and the first law requires that:
dEint = 0
A free expansion can not be plotted on a P-V diagram, because the process is rapid, not quasistatic. The intermediate states are not equilibrium states, and hence the pressure is not clearly defined.