Energy is present in many forms all around us such as electrical, kinetic, thermal, potential, and various other forms. There is also energy in the process of transfer from one body to another i.e. heat and work. Once energy is transferred it’s always designated according to its nature. Therefore, Thermal energy may result from the transfer of heat and work done may take the shape of mechanical energy.
Today, we’re discussing energy conversion and all the important aspects related to it.
So, read on!
Energy is the fundamental need of our everyday life. So much so, that the quality of life and even its sustenance, is dependent on the availability of energy. Hence, it is imperative for us to have a conceptual understanding of the various sources of energy, the conversion of energy from one form to another and the implications of these conversions.
You must have heard that heard that Energy conversion from one form to another is a well-known phenomenon. The Law of conservation of energy even tells us that the only thing that takes place with energy is the transformation from one form to another. This means that we can convert electrical energy into heat energy and light energy, solar energy can be converted to chemical energy, potential energy can be converted into kinetic energy, Gravitational potential energy can be converted into kinetic energy etc.
Energy Conversion is defined as the process where there is a change in energy from one form to another such as the conversion of nuclear energy into heat energy, the conversion of light energy into heat, thermal energy into work etc.
Types of Energy Conversions
There are various types of energy all around us and these energy sources can be converted from one form to another as explained below:
- Light energy can be converted to heat energy.
- Electrical energy can be converted to mechanical energy, light energy, heat energy, etc.
- Chemical energy can be converted to electrical energy.
- Thermal energy can be converted to heat energy.
- Mechanical energy can be converted to electrical energy, potential energy, etc.
- Nuclear energy can be converted to light energy and heat energy.
- The Solar energy can be converted to heat energy, chemical energy, and electrical energy.
- The Gravitational potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy.
Some examples of energy conversion are:
- A vehicle moving is an example of chemical energy being converted into kinetic energy.
- Electricity being produced with water is an example of potential energy being converted into kinetic energy.
- A ball from a height towards the ground is an example of potential energy being converted into kinetic energy.
- When you boil water using an electric kettle, it’s an example of electric energy being converted into heat energy.
These were some of the modern examples of energy conversion. Now, let’s take a look at how the energy conversion technology has evolved over the years and how the early humans used energy conversion by harnessing the natural forms of energy.
The Evolution of Energy Conversion
- The Use of Fire: The first evidence of energy conversion from the early ages is when the ancient humans discovered the use of fire. They burned dried plant, wood, and animal waste and used the resultant energy for cooking and heating. This was followed by the use of mechanical energy that was used to harness the energy of flowing water and wind. However, this generation of mechanical energy with the invention of simple devices came much later around 2000 years after humans discovered the use of fire.
- Waterwheels: The earliest evidence of a machine being used to grind grain is that of a waterwheel, which was later also used to drive sawmills and pumps, driving tilt hammers for forging iron, etc. Waterwheels were the primary means of mechanical power production, rivaled only occasionally by windmills. Therefore, many industrial towns, especially in early America, were set up at locations that assured water flow all year.
- Windmills: Apart from waterwheels, windmills were also used as a source of power to replace the animal muscle. Windmills were used in various parts of the world to convert the wind energy into mechanical energy for grinding grain, pumping water, and draining the lowland areas.
Energy Conversion during the Industrial Revolution
- Steam Engine: With the rapid growth of the industry around the mid-18th century (and somewhat later in various other countries), there was a pressing need for new sources of motive power, particularly those independent of geographic location and weather conditions. To meet the demands of the industry, the steam engine was developed as the first device for converting thermal energy into mechanical energy.
- Newcomen Engine: A few years later, a better and more efficient version of the steam pump which consisted of a cylinder fitted with a piston was developed. Although engines of this kind converted only about one percent of the thermal energy in the steam to mechanical energy, they remained unrivaled for more than 50 years.
- Watt’s Engine: Subsequently in the later years, the Newcomen engine was modified by adding a separate condenser to make it unnecessary to heat and cool the cylinder with each stroke. Since the cylinder and piston remained at steam temperature while the engine was operating, the fuel costs dropped by about 75 percent.
Later many improvements on the existing technology for energy conversion were carried out which saw the development of many other technologies. Devices such as the Stirling engine, Internal-Combustion engines, Electric generators & motors, Direct-energy conversion devices, and now the renewable energy sources have taken over to meet the dwindling supplies of natural sources of energy.
Conservation of Energy
Lastly, let’s understand the law of conservation of energy to further strengthen your fundamentals.
The Conservation of energy is the principle that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be converted from one form to another or transferred from one object to another. The energy transformation is applicable to all types of energy such as kinetic energy, potential energy, light energy, heat energy, sound energy, nuclear energy, gravitational potential energy etc. These transformations would occur again and again till the time that resource is present there. The friction effect and the air-pressure are the other factors which can affect the transformation to some extent.
Thus, we can safely say that in the whole system, the total energy remains constant but only its transformation takes place.
We hope this page proved useful to you in understanding energy conversion and the various aspects related to it.