background preloader

Forms of energy

Facebook Twitter

The total energy of a system can be subdivided and classified in various ways. For example, classical mechanics distinguishes between kinetic energy, which is determined by an object's movement through space, and potential energy, which is a function of the position of an object within a field.

It may also be convenient to distinguish gravitational energy, thermal energy, several types of nuclear energy (which utilize potentials from the nuclear force and the weak force), electric energy (from the electric field), and magnetic energy (from the magnetic field), among others. Many of these classifications overlap; for instance, thermal energy usually consists partly of kinetic and partly of potential energy.

Some types of energy are a varying mix of both potential and kinetic energy. An example is mechanical energy which is the sum of (usually macroscopic) kinetic and potential energy in a system. Elastic energy in materials is also dependent upon electrical potential energy (among atoms and molecules), as is chemical energy, which is stored and released from a reservoir of electrical potential energy between electrons, and the molecules or atomic nuclei that attract them. The list is also not necessarily complete. Whenever physical scientists discover that a certain phenomenon appears to violate the law of energy conservation, new forms are typically added that account for the discrepancy.

Heat and work are special cases in that they are not properties of systems, but are instead properties of processes that transfer energy. In general we cannot measure how much heat or work are present in an object, but rather only how much energy is transferred among objects in certain ways during the occurrence of a given process. Heat and work are measured as positive or negative depending on which side of the transfer we view them from.

Potential energies are often measured as positive or negative depending on whether they are greater or less than the energy of a specified base state or configuration such as two interacting bodies being infinitely far apart. Wave energies (such as radiant or sound energy), kinetic energy, and rest energy are each greater than or equal to zero because they are measured in comparison to a base state of zero energy: "no wave", "no motion", and "no inertia", respectively.

The distinctions between different kinds of energy is not always clear-cut. As Richard Feynman points out:

These notions of potential and kinetic energy depend on a notion of length scale. For example, one can speak of macroscopic potential and kinetic energy, which do not include thermal potential and kinetic energy. Also what is called chemical potential energy is a macroscopic notion, and closer examination shows that it is really the sum of the potential and kinetic energy on the atomic and subatomic scale. Similar remarks apply to nuclear "potential" energy and most other forms of energy.

This dependence on length scale is non-problematic if the various length scales are decoupled, as is often the case ... but confusion can arise when different length scales are coupled, for instance when friction converts macroscopic work into microscopic thermal energy.

Forms of energy. In the context of physical science, several forms of energy have been identified.

Forms of energy

These include[need quotation to verify]: Some entries in the above list constitute or comprise others in the list. The list is not necessarily complete. Whenever physical scientists discover that a certain phenomenon appears to violate the law of energy conservation, new forms are typically added that account for the discrepancy. Heat and work are special cases in that they are not properties of systems, but are instead properties of processes that transfer energy.

Elastic energy

Electrical energy. Gravitational energy. Ionization energy. Kinetic energy. Magnetic energy. Nuclear binding energy. Radiant energy. Chemical energy. In chemistry, chemical energy is the potential of a chemical substance to undergo a transformation through a chemical reaction to transform other chemical substances.

Chemical energy

Examples include batteries, food, gasoline, and more. Breaking or making of chemical bonds involves energy, which may be either absorbed or evolved from a chemical system. Mechanical wave. Ripple in water is a surface wave.

Mechanical wave

A mechanical wave is a wave that is an oscillation of matter, and therefore transfers energy through a medium.[1] While waves can move over long distances, the movement of the medium of transmission—the material—is limited. Therefore, oscillating material does not move far from its initial equilibrium position. Mechanical energy. Potential energy. If the work of a force field acting on a body that moves from a start to an end position is determined only by these two positions, and does not depend on the trajectory of the body, then there is a function known as potential energy that can be evaluated at the two positions to determine this work.

Potential energy

Rest energy. Work (physics) In physics, a force is said to do work if, when acting on a body, there is a displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force.

Work (physics)

For example, when a ball is held above the ground and then dropped, the work done on the ball as it falls is equal to the weight of the ball (a force) multiplied by the distance to the ground (a displacement). The term work was introduced in 1826 by the French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis[1][2] as "weight lifted through a height", which is based on the use of early steam engines to lift buckets of water out of flooded ore mines. The SI unit of work is the newton-metre or joule (J). The dimensionally equivalent newton-metre (N⋅m) is sometimes used as the measuring unit for work, but this can be confused with the unit newton-metre, which is the measurement unit of torque.

Heat. Originally, quantity of heat transferred was measured by how much it changed the states of participating bodies, for example, as amount of ice melted, or change in temperature, without work or matter transfer.[10] Such measurement is possible because many bodies, over most temperature ranges, expand reversibly on being heated.


This is called thermal expansion. Historically, when the first and second laws of thermodynamics had been established, it came to be regarded by physicists as more rational to define quantity of heat transferred in terms of equivalent work. Thus, for the sake of logical development, the concept of temperature was reserved for definition in terms of the second law, segregated from the statement of the first law. Kinetic theory explains heat as a macroscopic manifestation of the motions and interactions of microscopic constituents such as molecules and photons. The Sun and Earth form an ongoing example of a heating process. History[edit] Heat engine[edit] . Thermal energy. Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork.

Thermal energy

Thermal energy would ideally be the amount of heat required to warm the metal to it's temperature but this quantity is not well-defined, as there are many ways to obtain a given body at a given temperature, and each of them may require a different amount of total heat input.