TYPES OF ENERGY - examples explained

Doc Brown's Physics Revision Notes

Suitable for GCSE/IGCSE Physics/Science courses or their equivalent

The Law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created but only changes from one form to another.

You need to know what the different forms or type of energy there are.

In which different types of energy can exist?

You should be able to give brief description of the forms of energy and describe them with examples.

  • There are many types of energy - an alphabetical reminder list

    • Chemical energy

      • - chemical energy is 'stored' or 'bound up' in chemical elements/compounds by virtue of their chemical structure. They can release energy when they react eg burning hydrocarbon fuels like petrol from crude oil, metabolising foods like fats and carbohydrates, discharging a charged car battery containing sulfuric acid solution and lead electrodes.

      • Since chemical energy is a form of stored energy, it does nothing until it is released and converted into another form of energy.

    • Elastic potential energy

      • - this is energy stored when some material is stretched or compressed and the energy released when the constriction is released eg the wound up spring of a clockwork clock, a pulled elastic rubber band, stretched coiled metal spring, the compressed spring in a an animal trap, stretched bow  before the arrow is released.

      • Since elastic potential energy is a form of stored energy, it does nothing until it is released and converted into another form of energy.

      • The amount of elastic potential energy stored in a stretched spring can be calculated using the equation:

        • elastic potential energy = 0.5 spring constant (extension)2,    Ee = 1/2 k e2

        • (assuming the limit of proportionality has not been exceeded)

        • elastic potential energy, Ee, in joules, J

        • spring constant, k, in newtons per metre, N/m

        • extension, e, in metres, m

    • Electrical energy

      • - this is a flow of electrons in an electrical current, when an electrical current flows, the electrons carry the energy. Electrical energy can be converted into light, heat or kinetic energy in electric motors.

    • Gravitational potential energy (GPE)

      • - an object or material possesses gravitational potential energy by virtue of its higher position and can then fall or flow down to release the GPE eg winding up the weights on a clock, water stored behind a dam that can flow down through a turbine generator. Any object falling is converting GPE into kinetic energy (eg skier) and any object raised in height gains GPE (eg cable car).

      • Since gravitational energy is a form of stored energy, it does nothing until it is released and converted into another form of energy.

      • The amount of gravitational potential energy gained by an object raised above ground level can be calculated using the equation:

        • g . p . e . = mass gravitational field strength height, Egpe = m g h

        • gravitational potential energy (gpe), Egpe, in joules, J

        • mass, m, in kilograms, kg;

        • gravitational field strength, g, in newtons per kilogram, N/kg

        • height, h, in metres, m

        • (In any calculation the value of the gravitational field strength (g) will be given.)

    • Kinetic energy or movement energy (KE)

      • - any moving object has kinetic energy and KE energy must be removed from the object to slow it down eg a moving car, fired bullet

      • The kinetic energy of a moving object can be calculated using the equation:

        • kinetic energy = 0.5 mass (speed)2,    Ek = 1/2 m v2

        • kinetic energy, Ek, in joules, J; mass, m, in kilograms, kg; speed, v, in metres per second, m/s

    • Visible light energy (part of electromagnetic spectrum, like microwaves and infrared etc.)

      • - light is an example of electromagnetic radiation and the energy is carried by photons. All luminous sources by definition give out light eg the sun, light bulb, candle, fire etc. When light impacts on any material, the energy is absorbed eg sunlight shining on plant leaves in photosynthesis, light falling on the retina of our eyes.

        • Note that invisible infrared radiation is converted directly into heat eg warmth feeling in sunlight, standing by a fire, a toaster.

    • Nuclear energy

      • - this is energy released when atoms undergo a nuclear reaction eg fission is when atoms split to form smaller atoms and fusion is when smaller atoms come together to form a larger atom. Both processes release huge amounts of nuclear energy. This energy can be harnessed to power steam turbine generators to drive generators producing electricity.

    • Sound energy

      • - this is energy carried by the vibrations of sound waves in a medium usually air, but can be liquids like water or solids like iron. Noise from loudspeakers, squealing brakes of a car, using your vocal chords!

    • Thermal energy (heat energy)

      • - the hotter an object, the more thermal/heat energy the material contains/holds and hot objects can release heat energy to the cooler surroundings. Heat energy can only flow from a higher temperature region to a lower temperature region ie from hot objects to cold objects.

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