What is Chemical Energy? How Relevant is it to the Real World?
There are various forms of energy that humans have devised over the years, and chemical energy is the basis for much of that innovation. Chemical energy is a product of reactions inside a chemical compound. These compounds contain a set of atoms and molecules that in their natural state, are bound together. When the bond between them begins to separate or break, they react and form new compounds. It is in this period of separation and the forming of new molecules that energy is released. This energy is called chemical energy and can be captured and utilized in many ways.
This process is best understood by looking at what happens inside living organisms. When an animal or human ingests food it travels to the stomach where the molecules in the food are broken down into smaller pieces. This process of digestion breaks apart the bonds between the atoms, and molecules in the food source. When these bonds break they release a chemical energy that is absorbed by the body. This energy can be used right away or stored in the body for later use.
Just as we derive our vitality from this chemical process, so do plants.
All plants absorb sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Once absorbed the plant makes use of chlorophyll to separate the water into oxygen and hydrogen. The sunlight causes the oxygen to be released into the atmosphere thereby re-oxygenating the air we breathe. The hydrogen then combines with the carbon dioxide from the environment, which produces carbohydrates in the form of sugars that the plant will then use as energy to grow.
Chemical energy is essentially any form of energy that is produced through a change in a compound that has a chemical makeup. This same function creates heat when the sun warms the earth, it powers cars through the burning of gasoline, and furnaces through he burning of coal or natural gas. The production of chemical energy is all around us and through observation and scientific experimentation humans have learned to harness this power to create many things we rely on today.
The batteries in your cell phone, computer, watch, and remote control all operate with the same ideal. Your typical dry cell battery is made of zinc and carbon. This type of battery contains an acidic substance that eats away at the zinc rod inside the battery. The molecules of the acid then split into hydrogen and other atoms which releases electrons from the zinc, which then adheres to hydrogen ions in the acid. The rod of carbon, also inside the battery, does nothing until a circuit is completed by attaching both ends of the battery to wires. Once this is done electrons begin to flow and combine with the hydrogen on the carbon rod which produces electricity. When the zinc rod is fully dissolved, the battery is dead and must be replaced.
Batteries and other developments using chemical energy processes are nothing new, but the fundamentals of these tried and true functions are fueling progressions toward environmentally friendly energy advancements.
One such innovation that is leading the way to progress in renewable energy is bio-fuels Bio-fuels are created through the changing structure of biomass. Biomass is any material derived from a living or once living organism. Common biomass materials are wood, solid bodily waste, residual plant material left after harvest, energy crops, and industrial waste.
When burned these materials release chemical energy as heat which can be converted into forms of energy such as bio diesel, ethanol, and methane gas. The expansion of biomass use in electricity production and automobile fuels will reduce dependance on fossil fuel resources, and create a more environmentally friendly way to power our lives.
Chemical energy has been the fuel of every living organism since the beginning of time, and with the development of these new ways to use such energy, it will likely become even more important in the future. Renewable energy sources such as this are currently utilized by 1.6 billion people world wide every time they flip a light switch, and soon the rest of the world will also be enjoying this green energy. The expansion of this new technology will reduce our depletion of nonrenewable natural resources such as oil and minimize the pollution that threatens our environmental health.