Heat Engines



In thermodynamics, a heat engine is a system that performs the conversion of heat or thermal energy to mechanical work.[1][2] It does this by bringing a working substance from a high temperature state to a lower temperature state. A heat "source" generates thermal energy that brings the working substance to the high temperature state. The working substance generates work in the "working body" of the engine while transferring heat to the colder "sink" until it reaches a low temperature state. During this process some of the thermal energy is converted into work by exploiting the properties of the working substance. The working substance can be any system with a non-zero heat capacity, but it usually is a gas or liquid.

In general an engine converts energy to mechanical work. Heat engines distinguish themselves from other types of engines by the fact that their efficiency is fundamentally limited by Carnot's theorem.[3] Although this efficiency limitation can be a drawback, an advantage of heat engines is that most forms of energy can be easily converted to heat by processes like exothermic reactions(such as combustion), absorption of light or energetic particles, frictiondissipation and resistance. Since the heat source that supplies thermal energy to the engine can thus be powered by virtually any kind of energy, heat engines are very versatile and have a wide range of applicability.

Heat engines are often confused with the cycles they attempt to mimic. Typically when describing the physical device the term 'engine' is used. When describing the model the term 'cycle' is used.


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