Energy Transformation: Definition, Types & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Richard Cardenas

Richard Cardenas has taught Physics for 15 years. He has a Ph.D. in Physics with a focus on Biological Physics.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, you will learn about the different kinds of energy and how these types of energy can be transformed from one form to another. You will also learn about some uses of these energy transformations in everyday life.

What is Energy Transformation?

The conservation of energy principle states that energy can neither be destroyed nor created. Instead, energy just transforms from one form into another. So what exactly is energy transformation? Well, as you might guess, energy transformation is defined as the process of changing energy from one form to another.

There are so many different kinds of energy that can transform from one form to another. There is energy from chemical reactions called chemical energy, energy from thermal processes called heat energy, and energy from charged particles called electrical energy. The processes of fission, which is splitting atoms, and fusion, which is combining atoms, give us another type of energy called nuclear energy. And finally, the energy of motion, kinetic energy, and the energy associated with position, potential energy, are collectively called mechanical energy.

That sounds like quite a lot, doesn't it? Well it is, but don't worry, it's actually all pretty easy to remember. Next, we'll explore all of these kinds of possible transformations in more detail.

Different Types of Energy Transformations

Chemical energy is the energy stored within a substance through the bonds of chemical compounds. The energy stored in these chemical bonds can be released and transformed during any type of chemical reaction.

Think of when you're hungry. When you eat a piece of bread to satisfy this hunger, your body breaks down the chemical bonds of the bread and uses it to supply energy to your body. In this process, the chemical energy is transformed into mechanical energy, which you use to move, and which we'll cover in more detail in a moment. It also transforms it into thermal energy, which is created through the metabolic processes in your body to generate heat. Most of the time, chemical energy is released in the form of heat, and this transformation from chemical energy to heat, or thermal energy, is called an exothermic reaction.

Next, there are two main types of mechanical energy: kinetic energy and potential energy. Kinetic energy is the energy associated with the motion of an object. Therefore, any object that moves has kinetic energy. Likewise, there are two types of potential energy: gravitational potential energy and elastic potential energy. Gravitational potential energy is associated with the energy stored by an object because of its location above the ground. Elastic potential energy is the energy stored by any object that can stretch or compress. Potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy and vice versa.

For example, when you do a death-defying bungee jump off of a bridge, you are executing a variety of energy transformations. First, as you prepare to jump, you have gravitational potential energy - the bungee cord is slack so there is no elastic potential energy. Once you jump, you convert this gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy as you fall down. At the same time, the bungee cord begins to stretch out. As the cord stretches, it begins to store elastic potential energy. You stop at the very bottom when the cord is fully stretched out, so at this point, you have elastic potential energy. The cord then whips you back up, thereby converting the stored elastic potential energy into kinetic energy and gravitational potential energy. The process then repeats.

Electrical energy is the energy carried by charged particles as they move around a conductor. A perfect example of electrical energy being released is during a lightning storm. A lightning strike on a tree is an example of electrical energy being transformed into heat or thermal energy. The tree becomes hot and may even burn as a result of the electrical discharge.

Chemical energy can also be converted into electrical energy. For example, the chemical energy in a battery is converted into electrical energy. The electrical energy, which involves the motion of electrical charges or currents, can be used to power everyday devices like computers and flashlights.

Mechanical energy can also be transformed into electrical energy. For example, a hydroelectric plant uses the mechanical energy of flowing water to generate electrical energy. Wind energy is another mechanical to electrical energy transformation. The mechanical energy of the wind is transformed into electrical energy which can then be transformed into other types of energy.

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Additional Activities

Energy Transformations in Your Life

Now that you know about all of the different types of energy, we're going to look at some examples that you see in your everyday life. For example, rubbing your hands together converts chemical energy in your muscles to kinetic energy as they move, and then thermal energy as you generate heat.

Follow the steps below to observe some real life examples of energy transformation, then create two on your own.

Example 1: Hot Water

Start by putting a pot of water on the stove. Next, turn on the stove and observe the changes in the water. Bring the water to a boil and then turn off the stove. What energy transformations did you observe? Describe at least three.

Example 2: A Bike Ride

If you are able to, take your bike out for a spin around the block. What energy transformations do you see happening? If you are unable to ride a bike, then watch a video online of a professional cyclist. Describe at least three energy transformations you observe or experience.

Example 3 and 4: Your Choice

Now, it's your turn to find energy transformations in your environment. Choose two additional examples and take pictures of the energy changes. Then, for each picture write a description of what energy transformations are happening and why you think that. You can organize your work on paper by printing out your pictures, or you can organize it online in a slideshow program or a drawing program, such as Google Slides or Drawings.

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