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GS104 Environmental Science

Thermodynamics is the study of energy transformations. Energy has the ability to transfer heat and it exists in either kinetic or potential energy. Kinetic energy is defined as moving energy. Potential energy is stored energy. There are different qualities of energy which is defined as, “A measure of the capacity of a type of energy to useful work.” (Lecture: The Science Basics) High quality energy is better because it has the ability to do more useful work. The reason it can do more useful work is because it is more concentrated. Temperatures that are really hot are considered high-quality energy, for example, burning oil is considered high-quality energy that is very common in our world today.

Low quality energy is not as useful as high quality energy because it is more spread out. It’s more difficult to heat up a larger area or room because there is more space for the energy to fill. It may start out as high quality until it is released into a bigger area where it loses concentration, so the temperature decreases so much that the energy quality is much lower than it originally was. This is where thermodynamics come into play. There are two laws of thermodynamics which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

The first law of thermodynamics describes energy as never being able to be created nor destroyed. No matter what we do, we cannot ever destroy energy. Although this is true, it can still be transferred from one area to another. From the beginning of time our universe has been transferring and storing energy for our use and ability to survive. For example, chemical energy can be transferred as electrical much like how energy in a battery works.

The second law of thermodynamics states that whenever energy is changed from one form to another in a chemical or physical state, it becomes less useful than it was during its previous state. So this means that we are unable to recycle high quality...