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When a new energy source, such as a geothermal well, is discovered, the first thing the explorers do is
estimate the amount of energy contained in the source. This information alone, however, is of little
value in deciding whether to build a power plant on that site. What we really need to know is the work
potential of the source I.e, the amount of energy we can extract as useful work. Thus, it would be very
desirable to have a property to enable us to determine the useful work potential of a given amount of
energy. This property is exergy, which is also called the availability or available energy.

The work potential of the energy contained in a system at a specified state is simply the maximum
useful work that can be obtained from the system. You will recall that the work done during a process
depends on the initial state, the final state, and the process path. That is,

Work = f (initial state, process path, final state)

In an exergy analysis, the initial state is specified, and thus it is not a variable. The work output is
maximized when the process between two specified states is executed in a reversible manner.
Therefore, all irreversibilities are disregarded in determining the work potential. Finally, the system
must be in the dead state at the end of the process to maximize the work output.

Exergy is defined as the maximum work obtainable from a system, therefore for a heat engine, the
maximum work is Q(1-To /T) ; where To is the ambient temperature and T is the temperature of the
source. This is the work done by a reversible heat engine operating between the temperatures To & T
and represents the exergy of the heat supplied Q.

Exergy provides a way to assess the quality of a certain amount of energy. The loss of of a
certain amount of energy at temp T1, say through heat will be more than the loss of same
amount of energy at temp T2; where T1>T2. Similarly, the loss in work potential because of
free expansion of a certain amount of gas at pressure P1 will be more than free expansion of
same amount of gas at pressure P2; where P1>P2. This is because in both cases the substance
at temp, pressure T1, P1 have higher work potential than the same amount of substance at
temp, pressure T2,P2.


Consider the two situations, a hot gas looses Q amount of heat(isobarically) to

surroundings at temperature To irreversibly, such that the temperature of gas changes from
T1 to T2 . The same quantity of heat is lost under the same circumstances by the gas such
that its temperature changes from T/1 to T/2; where T1>T/1 & T2>T/2

Case I:- Heat loss(Q) = CP (T2-T1); where CP is thermal heat capacity of gas at constant pressure

Even though the process of heat loss is irreversible, let us assume a reversible path so as to
calculate the entropy change of the gas.

The exergy associated with this heat is equal to the work done by a reversible heat engine
operating between the gas at temperature T12 & surroundings at temp To.

Since in a cycle the change in properties is zero, therefore the entropy change of the
working substance of the heat engine must be zero I.e S1-2 = S3-4 (entropy change of
surroundings due to heat rejection Q0).

Therefore Q0 = T0S1-2 ==> W=Q-Q0 ==>W= Q - T0S1-2

Case II:- Heat loss(Q) = CP (T/2-T/1); where CP is thermal heat capacity of gas at constant pressure

Following similar approach as above, we have

& W/=Q T0 S/1-2

Now, form the expressions of Q, since Q is same for both cases, and T12 > T/12 , therefore S/1-2 > S1-2

==> W>W/
Thus the exergy of the gas when it is at higher temperature is more.

You will observe in all our discussions of exergy, whether the system acted as source or
sink, the processes were always spontaneous I.e the system either above or below the dead
state, always ended up shifting to the dead state co-ordinates. We can also define exergy for
non-spontaneous processes I.e processes which consume work for their fullfillment.
Thus the work potential I.e exergy is less when heat transfer takes place irreversibly to heat
engine than when the same amount of heat is transferred reversibly.