What is Chemical Energy? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:08 What is Chemical Energy?
  • 0:55 Application of Chemical Energy
  • 1:54 Chemical Energy in…
  • 3:46 Endothermic and…
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
John Simmons

John has taught college science courses face-to-face and online since 1994 and has a doctorate in physiology.

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.

This lesson describes chemical energy as a type of potential energy stored in chemicals, such as sugar and gasoline. The lesson discusses how energy is transferred from solar energy to chemical energy by plants and how gasoline is a source of chemical energy used to move cars.

What Is Chemical Energy?

Energy is the ability to do work, where work is movement of an object by some force. We use energy every day, and energy comes in different forms. Chemical energy is energy that is stored in chemicals, such as sugar and gasoline. As chemical energy is stored energy, it is a type of potential energy, which is energy stored in objects due to their location. An easy example of potential energy would be that of a bike on top of a hill where the bike's position is elevated and has the ability to roll down the hill. In the case of chemicals, the position refers to the various atoms that exist together within the chemical.

Application of Chemical Energy

Now that we understand that chemicals contain potential energy, let's explore the significance of chemical energy. In other words, what does chemical energy do for nature?

Let's play a word association game. What do you think of when I say 'The Circle of Life'? If you're like me, you probably thought of the Disney movie 'The Lion King'. Man that was a great movie! Another way of thinking about the circle of life is in terms of energy utilization within nature. Let me explain. Plants use energy from the sun to make sugar and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water. We, along with other animals, digest that sugar to release energy, so we can do work. Sugar is digested; in other words it's broken down, into carbon dioxide and water, which, in turn, is used by plants to make more sugar.

Are you getting the circle of life?

Solar energy is used by plants to create chemical energy in the form of sugar.
Chemical Energy Examples

Chemical Energy in Everyday Life

We just talked about the fact that plants use solar energy to make sugar from carbon dioxide and water. Sugar, carbon dioxide and water are all chemicals that are held together by what we call chemical bonds or forces that hold the chemicals together. For example, all sugars are composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms that are held together by chemical bonds. These atoms don't just stick together automatically. Rather, energy is needed to hold them together. Plants utilize solar energy to put the carbon, the hydrogen and the oxygen atoms together in the form of sugar. This is a really good example of energy transformation where energy is changed from one form to another. In this case, solar energy is converted into chemical energy that holds the sugar together and prevents it from falling apart.

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Additional Activities

Chemical Energy Around the House

In this activity, students will apply their knowledge of chemical energy to find five different examples in their home. Students might choose something like a battery pack in their phone, their favorite snack, or even the muscles they use to walk around the house. Students might realize it can be difficult to identify chemical energy examples, since we can't see chemical reactions happening. This is addressed in the discussion questions. If students are stuck getting started, help them apply examples in the lesson to their life. For example, in the lesson, sugar is given as an example of chemical energy. Have students apply this concept to realize that all food has chemical energy.


In this activity, you're going to be expanding your knowledge of chemical energy by finding five different examples of chemical energy inside your home. For each example, list what the item is in the table below, why it is an example of chemical energy, and how it impacts your daily life. When you're done, answer the reflection questions.

Chemical Energy ExampleWhy Is It Chemical EnergyHow Does It Impact Your Life

Reflection Questions:

  1. What was the most difficult part about finding examples of chemical energy?
  2. How was chemical energy important in your everyday life?
  3. What other forms of energy are important in your daily life? Describe some examples based on the lesson.

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