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UExcel Physics: Study Guide & Test Prep17 chapters | 188 lessons

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Lesson Transcript

Instructor:
*David Wood*

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video lesson, you will be able to explain what a heat engine is, how it works from a thermodynamic perspective, and complete some simple calculations involving the efficiency of a heat engine. A short quiz will follow.

Whenever I fly in a plane, I like to take the seat near the wing. There are several reasons for this: being in the center of the plane you're less likely to get airsick, and some even argue that it's safer there. But one of the reasons is my interest in physics. Just a few meters away are the jet engines, a marvel of human engineering and knowledge. And jet engines, like all mechanical (or non-electric) engines, are just one example of a heat engine.

The **second law of thermodynamics** tells us that heat only spontaneously goes from hot places to cold places, never the other way around. A **heat engine** is the general term for any engine that uses this transfer of heat to extract useful work; in most cases, to create physical motion. This is how car engines, jet engines, and the original steam engines all work.

This is the kind of diagram that is used to describe this process. A heat engine will have a hot reservoir, a cold reservoir, and as heat energy transfers from hot to cold, work will be extracted. This is exactly the opposite process to what happens in a refrigerator, where we put work (or energy) in through electricity and force heat to transfer the opposite way; force the cold reservoir to get colder so that our food doesn't go bad. When heat goes the natural way (hot to cold), we can extract work. When heat goes the unnatural way (cold to hot), we have to do work.

This diagram also shows some of the algebra we use for heat engines. *QH* is the heat energy leaving the hot reservoir (measured in Joules), *QC* is the heat energy entering the cold reservoir (also measured in Joules), and *W* is the useful work extracted from the heat engine (again, that's measured in Joules).

**Conservation of energy** says that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it only moves from one place to another. So this means that *QH* must be equal to the sum of *W* and *QC*. Or in other words, the energy entering the heat engine must be equal to the work extracted, plus the heat energy lost to the cold reservoir. Whatever heat goes in, the same amount of energy must come out.

To make a heat engine work and continue working, you have to keep the hot reservoir nice and hot. That takes a lot of energy. It's therefore super important that heat engines are as efficient as possible. A perfectly efficient heat engine would be one where all the heat energy you put in to keep the hot reservoir hot is completely transferred into work, where no energy is absorbed by the cold reservoir at all. And it turns out, this can never happen in the real world. Some heat energy is always lost, and no process is perfectly efficient.

If we want to calculate the efficiency of a heat engine, we need to figure out what proportion of the heat energy we put into the hot reservoir comes out as work. So that would be work, *W*, divided by *QH*, the heat we put into the heat engine. If 100% of the energy we put in came out as work, it would be 100% efficient and *W* would be equal to *QH*. That means that *W* divided by *QH* would equal 1. This is a decimal, so 1 means 100%. If you want it as a percentage, you can just multiply by 100.

But what if we don't know how much work was extracted? What if all we know is how much heat was put into the hot reservoir, and how much heat ended up in the cold reservoir? In that case, we'll need a different efficiency equation. Because of conservation of energy, we know that the energy that goes into the heat engine must equal the energy that goes out. So *QH* must be equal to *W* + *QC*. If we rearrange this equation to make *W* the subject, we see that *W* (work) is equal to *QH* - *QC*. This makes sense because it says that the work extracted from a heat engine is equal to the difference between the energy that goes in from the hot reservoir and the energy that goes out via the cold reservoir. Whatever the difference between these two numbers is the energy that was extracted as work.

We can substitute *QH* - *QC* into our previous efficiency equation and then we'll see that the efficiency of a heat engine is also equal to *QH* - *QC* divided by *QH*. So, depending on what information we are given, we can use either of these two equations to figure out the efficiency of a heat engine.

Okay, let's go through an example. Let's say you're trying to figure out how efficient your car engine is. You measure how much gas is used to drive to the Grand Canyon and the amount of energy that amounts to in Joules; it turns out to be 2.4 million Joules. Next, you measure the heat that escapes from the engine. Putting some sensors on every side of the engine, you estimate that about 1.8 million Joules of heat escaped from the engine. So, now you need to use an equation to calculate the efficiency of the engine. We already have *QH* and *QC*, the energy put into the heat engine and the wasted energy that ended up in the cold reservoir (which, in this case, is just the environment). So, we should use the second equation. We just need to plug in our numbers and solve. So, that will give us 2.4 million Joules minus 1.8 million Joules, divided by 2.4 million Joules. Type all that into a calculator and you get an efficiency of 0.25. Or, if you want that as a percentage, just multiply by 100 to get 25%.

The **second law of thermodynamics** tells us that heat only spontaneously goes from hot places to cold places, never the other way around. A **heat engine** is the general term for any engine that uses this transfer of heat to extract useful work; in most cases, to create physical motion. This is how car engines, jet engines, and the original steam engines all work.

The standard heat engine diagram shows us this process, as well as some of the algebra we use for heat engines. It's a good reference when looking at equations.

Today, we learned the equations for the efficiency of a heat engine. 100% efficiency would mean that all the heat you put in went to do work and none was sent to the cold reservoir, which is impossible in real life. The equation for efficiency is therefore work, *W*, measured in Joules, divided by the energy put in, *QH*, also measured in Joules. If *W* = *QH* then that gives you 100% efficiency.

**Conservation of energy** says that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it only moves from one place to another. So this means that *QH* must be equal to the sum of *W* and *QC*. Or, in other words, the work extracted by the heat engine is also equal to the difference between *QH* and *QC*. We use this to get our second equation for the efficiency of a heat engine, which is *QH* (measured in Joules) minus *QC* (measured in Joules), divided by *QH* (also measured in Joules).

Depending on what information we're given in a question, we can use either of these equations to calculate the efficiency of a heat engine. The answer will come out as a decimal, but if you want percentage efficiency, just multiply by 100.

Once you are done, you should be able to:

- Recall the second law of thermodynamics
- Describe what a heat engine is
- Explain how a heat engine works
- Calculate the efficiency of a heat engine using the equation for efficiency

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UExcel Physics: Study Guide & Test Prep17 chapters | 188 lessons

- Go to Vectors

- Go to Kinematics

- Temperature Units: Converting Between Kelvins and Celsius 5:39
- Changes in Heat and Energy Diagrams 8:09
- Phase Changes and Heating Curves 5:38
- How to Calculate Specific Heat Capacity for Different Substances 7:30
- Heat Transfer Through Conduction: Equation & Examples 6:44
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- Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy and Systems 6:21
- Entropy: Equation & Calculations 6:51
- Heat Engines & Efficiency 6:56
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