1 – Energy Degradation and Power Generation
8.1.1 – State that thermal energy may be completely converted to work in a single process, but that continuous conversion of this energy into work requires a cyclical process and the transfer of some energy from the system. The difference in temperature between two bodies can be used to do work, in the form of a heat engine. Heat engines extract heat from the hot source, transfer it to the cold source and use it to do useful mechanical work. However, with time, the thermal energy being transferred from the hot source to the cold source will cause the temperatures to reach equilibrium, and the potential for the two bodies to do work will be lost. We could also consider our two objects as “places” or reservoirs, the hot source as the cylinders of a car where gasoline is burned, and the cold source as the exhaust system of the engine. The engine begins in some state, absorbs thermal energy, then does work. The machine must now be returned to its original state for the process to be repeated, energy must be returned to a colder reservoir, making the energy less useful. This energy has degraded. The price to pay for operating in a cycle is that not all of the thermal energy transferred can be transformed into mechanical work.

8.1.2 – Explain what is meant by degraded energy. When the energy used to do work in the system is transferred from the hot source into the cold source, it loses some of its usefulness. It is necessary for the system to lose some of the energy in order to continue to operate in a cyclic process. The energy that is no longer useful is said to be degraded. So, in a car engine, the gas in the pistons is heated to expand, which causes the piston to move. In order for the piston to retract, the gas has to be cooled to its original state; the heat from the gas is then forced out of the exhaust pipe to recreate the temperature difference.


8.1.3 – Construct and analyse energy flow diagrams (Sankey diagrams) and identify where the energy is degraded. In Sankey Diagrams, width is proportional to the amount of energy. The value at the beginning of the arrow is 100%, the furthest arrow is the useful energy obtained. The diagram alongside shows a Sankey Diagram for a typical power plant.

8.1.4 – Outline the principal mechanisms involved in the production of electrical power. The final production of electrical energy generally takes place in a generator, however, the processes leading up to this vary due to the original source of power. The main idea of a generator is to use the kinetic energy of a turbine to spin a coil in a magnetic field, so that the magnetic field lines are cut by the moving coil. According to Faraday’s law, an Electromotive Force (voltage) will be created in the coil. As such, a generator converts the kinetic or mechanical energy into electrical energy.


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