What is Heat engine: Definition and 162 Discussions

In thermodynamics and engineering, a heat engine is a system that converts heat to mechanical energy, which can then be used to do mechanical work. It does this by bringing a working substance from a higher state temperature to a lower state temperature. 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. During this process, some heat is normally lost to the surroundings and is not converted to work. Also, some energy is unusable because of friction and drag.
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. 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), nuclear fission, absorption of light or energetic particles, friction, dissipation 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 cover a wide range of applications.
Heat engines are often confused with the cycles they attempt to implement. Typically, the term "engine" is used for a physical device and "cycle" for the models.

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  1. F

    B Heat pump as a heat engine that operates in reverse

    The efficiency of a heat engine is calculated as ##\eta = |W|/|Q_h| = 1- |Q_c|/|Q_h|##. If this engine operates between the temperatures ##T_c## and ##T_h##, then Carnot's theorem states that ##\eta<\eta_C = 1-T_c/T_h##. This means ##T_c/T_h < |Q_c|/|Q_h|##. Now assume that the heat engine is...
  2. singularcell

    Efficiency and Temperature in Heat Engine Cycles: Approaching Parts B, C, and D

    I didn't have much trouble with part a but I'm struggling with b,c, and d. I considered the efficiency formula for a heat engine e = work done by engine/ qh but i am unsure of how to approach it. for part c) not sure how i can get to Tc without knowing Th for d) my gut is telling me 5/2 but i...
  3. F

    Calculating pressure from a known equation of energy

    My attempted solution is as follows: Obviously the heat transfer happens during transitions 1->2 and 3->1. It's also clear that P1 = P3 V1 = V2 E2 - E1 = Integral[T dQ , from state 1 to state 2] E3 - E2 = - Integral[P dV , from state 2 to state 3] E1 - E3 = Integral[T dQ , from state 3 to...
  4. Poorneshwar 2

    I Difference between the thermal and mechanical efficiency

    Hello, I'm confused between the difference between the thermal and mechanical efficiency of a Sterling heat engines or heat engines in general. I hope you could be able to guide and help me. Thank you
  5. D

    B Question about Thermophotovoltaics (thermal heat engine)

    https://news.mit.edu/2022/thermal-heat-engine-0413 This team that developed this device claims it is capable of generating electrical current from a 1900C heat source via the photovoltaic effect. I was wondering if the generated electricity was put through an initially 1901C electrical...
  6. W

    Heat Engine Efficiency: How Ice Water Affects Performance

    Consider mixing ice water with the hot water and vice versa so that the two reservoirs are closer to the same temperature. What will happen to the mechanical/thermodynamic efficiency and ideal Carnot efficiency of a heat engine?
  7. guyvsdcsniper

    Finding an expression for the efficiency of a heat engine

    My book states the answer to this problem is . I have gotten very close to the answer. My problem is my Tc/th and tc/tm are flipped compared to the solution. I feel like I am missing something in my algebra but can't see where I am going wrong. Could I get some help identifying where my...
  8. K

    I Theoretical maximum efficiency of a heat engine without Carnot

    Through an intriguing fictitious dialog between Sadi Carnot and Robert Sterling, Prof. Israel Urieli of the Ohio University shows that it is not required to invoke entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, and the Carnot cycle with the [ideal] adiabatic processes in order to find out the...
  9. V

    Energy transformations in an IC engine cylinder

    A drop of fuel is ignited in an engine cylinder, that produces heat, light and sound energies from the chemical energy stored in the drop of oil. What I am not clear about is how heat energy gets transformed into mechanical work? I think the heat energy produced from ignition flows from burnt...
  10. J

    Efficiency of heat engine question

    So efficiency is W/Qin. W= 0 for isochoric processes and for the isobaric, P(change in V). So W=Pi(Vi-Vf)+Pf(Vi-Vf) Qin is negative Qs.This would happen at step 2 and 3. For the isobaric, Q=ncv(change in T) and for isochoric, Q=ncp(change in T). Now if I put everything in the equation I get...
  11. phyzguy

    Efficiency of a heat engine in space

    I have a question about building efficient heat engines in outer space. In theory you could have a hot reservoir heated by the sun that was several hundred degrees C, and a cold reservoir that was very cold - maybe 50K - 100K or even colder. Thus, theoretically at least, a heat engine could be...
  12. P

    Heat engine that uses a rubber band (Thermodynamics)

    Nota that the path a to b is isothermal since J is proportional to L, then we can find the value of T_a and T_b using the equation of state and the figure. We have, \begin{equation} J_0=\alpha L_0T_b \end{equation} or \begin{equation} T_b=T_a=\frac{J_0}{\alpha L_0}=T_0 \end{equation} Also, by...
  13. Tom Booth

    Should ice take longer to melt when used to run a heat engine?

    If a heat engine converts heat into "work", will ice used to run a Stirling heat engine last longer than ice allowed to melt by itself? To try and answer this, I obtained a Stirling engine and ran this experiment: With the engine running: And not running: Without the engine running the...
  14. B

    Ammonia Rankine cycle heat engine calculation

    A Rankine Cycle heat engine uses ammonia as a working fluid, turbine entry temperature is 25 Bar at 60 degrees Celsius. The turbine outlet pressure is 4 Bar, the question is: what is the outlet temperature? and if the output power is 6 Gigawatt (6x10^9 watt) what would the mass flow rate of the...
  15. M

    Thermodynamics Problem: Heat Engine Between Two Blocks

    Hi, I am quite confused about how to approach this problem. I have seen variations of this problem where there is a heat engine between two blocks, but in this case the surroundings are massless, so I don't believe that approach will work here. Method: I have first started with the case that...
  16. Pouyan

    What is the change in entropy of the water in a reversible heat engine?

    My attempt: I though : ΔQ_w= 1*4200 * (-100) J=-420000J Q_ice=334000*m_ice = ΔQ_w But it was totaly wrong! The solution showed : Because the heat engine is reversible the efficiency η = 1- (T_cold / T) T_cold is always 273 K while the hot temperature changes from 373 K to 273 K during this...
  17. Parzeevahl

    Obtaining work from two bodies by a heat engine

    Here's my attempt for the first part: For the first body, the work obtained is ##W_1 = C_P (T_1 - T_f)## while for the second body, it is ##W_2 = C_P(T_2 - T_f).## So the net work obtained is the sum of these two: ##W = W_1 + W_2 = C_P (T_1 + T_2 - 2 T_f)## and that proves the first part...
  18. gregorspv

    The efficiency of a heat engine

    The first picture was provided along the problem statement. The second has my annotations. I initially began by calculating the ratio of efficiencies, since the work done is obviously the same and cancels out, but after failing and having seen the form of the solution I saw that that cannot...
  19. F

    Temperatures of the hot source and cold sink in a heat engine

    Hi, I was just wondering about the efficiency of a cycle that is not Carnot cycle. In that case one should use \eta = 1-\left|\frac{Q_{\rm out}}{Q_{\rm in}}\right|, where Q_{\rm in} and Q_{\rm out} are the amounts of heat absorbed and released during the cycle. For instance, I guess that in...
  20. JD_PM

    Heat engine undergoing an elliptical cycle

    An ideal diatomic gas undergoes an elliptic cyclic process characterized by the following points in a ##PV## diagram: $$(3/2P_1, V1)$$ $$(2P_1, (V1+V2)/2)$$ $$(3/2P_1, V2)$$ $$(P_1, (V1+V2)/2)$$This system is used as a heat engine (converting the added heat into mechanical work). Evaluate the...
  21. T

    Efficiency of a Heat Engine: How to Calculate Heat Transfer in a Monotonic Gas

    Homework Statement I am having an issue trying to decipher this question, as I am not sure if it a lack of knowledge on my half or there is an assumption I have to make. Homework Equations ##\epsilon=\frac{W_{total}}{Q_{in}}## The Attempt at a Solution My issue is calculating the heat...
  22. F

    Does a good heat engine make a bad refrigerator?

    Hi all, the efficiency ##\eta## of a generic heat engine working between two temperatures is bound from above by the efficiency ##\eta_{\rm C}## of a Carnot machine working between the same temperatures. That is, if the temperatures are the same, a (ideal) Carnot machine is better than any...
  23. G

    What is the name of this Heat Engine?

    We all know how a thermostat works 2 different type of metal are attach together, when temperature changes 1 metal strap expands more than the other strap causing the straight metal strap to bend. 45 years ago when I was in college the professor brought a desk top heat engine to class. He...
  24. J

    Simple reversed heat engine problem

    Homework Statement In a reversed heat engine, the work done on the engine is 85 kJ and the heat transfer to the engine from the low temperature region is 260 kJ. Determine: 1. the heat transfer to the high temperature region 2. the coefficient of performance as a refrigerator Homework...
  25. T

    Is the human body a heat engine?

    If this is a valid enough definition of a heat engine: All heat engines transfer heat energy from higher to lower temperatures, and do work in the process. ... then is the human body a heat engine?
  26. UMath1

    Heat Engine Efficiency and Entropy

    In deriving the Carnot Efficiency, the assumption is made that theoretically most efficient engine will generate no net entropy, meaning that the entropy that enters the system during heat absorption must equal the entropy that leaves the engine during heat rejection. Why is the case? Why would...
  27. P

    How Efficient Can a Radiative Heat Engine Be for a Moon Base?

    Homework Statement The emission of radiation from the Sun’s disc is observed to peak at 0.5 μm wave- length and that from the Moon’s disc at 10.0μm. A heat engine to power a Moon base is to be constructed using radiation collected from the Sun. What is the maximum theoretical efficiency of such...
  28. Franz Rojas Ayala

    Heat energy input from a hot source in a heat engine

    Greetings! I did the famous "Mass Lifter Heat Engine" experiment in which a mass is put at the top of a piston enclosed within a cylinder. The cylinder is connected to an aluminium canister of air and the air inside this canister expands and contracts the piston with thermal contact. We had 2...
  29. patrickmoloney

    Why can the efficiency of a refrigerator (heat pump) be greater than one?

    In a heat engine thermal energy is converted into mechanic energy. In a heat pump or refrigeration cycle - fluid is being circulated between hot and cold wells. But how can the efficiency be greater than 1? Is it because COP_{\text{heating}}>COP_{\text{cooling}}
  30. Toby_phys

    Efficiency of a Simple 3-Stage Ideal Gas Cycle: Analyzing Thermal Efficiency η

    A possible ideal-gas cycle operates as follows: 1. From an initial state (##p_1##, ##V_1##) the gas is cooled at constant pressure to (##p_1##, ##V_2##); Let's call the start and end temperature ##T_1## and ##T_2## 2.The gas is heated at constant volume to (##p_2##, ##V_2##);Lets call the...
  31. M

    2 body engine, final equilibrium temperate and work produced

    Homework Statement 2 bodies with contant heat capacity C and 2C, are initially at temp T and 2T. if a heat engine executing a reversible carnot cycle operates between the two bodies until their temperatures are equal, what is the final temp of the bodies and how much work is preformed by the...
  32. Waggles

    Renewable Energy Concept - Stirling Engine Composting

    So I've got this crazy idea. To put it simply, to use the heat from anaerobic composting to power hot-air engine, specifically a Stirling Engine. Based solely on my own reading, the center of a closed composting heap can reach anywhere from 120-160 degrees without killing the microorganisms...
  33. grandpa2390

    Calculating the Efficiency of a Heat engine

    Homework Statement I am trying to calculate the efficiency of this heat engine that has two step. an adiabatic compression, followed by a linear expansion back to the original point. I keep getting an efficiency of 1, which I know can't be right... Homework Equations ##e = \frac{W}{Q_H}## The...
  34. E

    Temperature in a Carnot heat engine

    Homework Statement A Carnot heat engine takes 95 cycles to lift a 10 kg. mass a height of 11 m . The engine exhausts 14 J of heat per cycle to a cold reservoir at 0∘C. What is the temperature of the hot reservoir? Homework Equations η=1-(Tc/Th)=W/Qh The Attempt at a Solution I've tried...
  35. danyull

    Efficient Heat Engine and Final Temperature Calculation

    Homework Statement Two identical bodies of constant heat capacity ##C_p## at temperatures ##T_1## and ##T_2## respectively are used as reservoirs for a heat engine. If the bodies remain at constant pressure, show that the amount of work obtainable is ##W = C_p (T_1 + T_2 − 2T_f)##, where...
  36. R

    Heat Engine problem in Thermophysics

    Homework Statement Im working on the following problem and could need some help in answering them: Work is being produced from a cycle. In order to produce this work, energy is being taking from a high temperature sources at a ratio of 1000 kJ/kg and the extra energy is being deliver to a...
  37. L

    How to derive this heat input equation?

    There's one equation that I've seen being used already, which by itself is quite simple, but I can't understand where it comes from. The context is as follows: suppose we have one heat engine operating between systems A and B whose temperatures are T_A>T_B. Let's suppose further that the...
  38. Tulio Cesar

    How Do Carnot's Efficiency Formulas for Heat Engines Align?

    My question is: according to Carnot cycle, the maximum efficiency of a heat engine is given by 1 - T2/T1, where T2 is the temperature of the cold source and T1 the temperature of the hot source. So, accordingly, as higher T2 is for a same T1, lowest is the efficiency of the engine. But, the...
  39. trigger701

    What moves the piston in a Carnot heat engine?

    Hi everyone, I have been looking at Carnot heat engines in a bid to better understand entropy, and I can't figure out how it actually does work. Why does the piston move? In some diagrams I have seen weights being removed from the piston, reducing the pressure at constant temperature and...
  40. Willfrid Somogyi

    Heat Extracted and Delivered to Reservoirs in a Heat Engine

    NO TEMPLATE---MISPLACED HOMEWORK So it seems like a pretty simple question, and in all likelihood it is, but my lecturer somehow managed to miss this bit in his lecture notes. A heat engine operates between 500K and 300K with 20% of the efficiency of Carnot engine operating between the same...
  41. K

    Work done by a 20% efficient heat engine

    I had an exam last week and I just got it back today. On the exam was a question that I got wrong even though his wording was terrible (he's from India) and I feel that it was not clearly expressed what he was saying. The question is: "A heat engine is 20% efficient. If it absorbs 500 J of heat...
  42. L

    Why does heat engine need to do negative work to surround?

    Every thermodynamics cycle needs to do negative work to the environment, which lower its total positive work. For example, in Carnot cycle, the most efficiency possible: 1/ Engine receives heat from hot reservoir, expands and do positive work to surround 2/ Surround does work to engine...
  43. M

    How to Calculate Energy and Work in a Stirling Cycle?

    Homework Statement Suppose that 282 moles of a monatomic ideal gas is initially contained in a piston with a volume of 0.81 m^3 at a temperature of 574 K. The piston is connected to a hot reservoir with a temperature of 1365 K and a cold reservoir with a temperature of 574 K. The gas undergoes...
  44. A

    Thermodynamics (Entropy Generation and Heat Engine)

    Homework Statement A hot gas stream at 600K and 200 kPa is cooled at constant pressure to 300K in a pipe by direct thermal contact with the atmosphere. The mass flow rate of the stream is 0,1 kg/s and the atmospheric temperature and pressure are 300K and 100 kPa. Modeling the gas as an ideal...
  45. vetgirl1990

    Efficiency of a Carnot Engine

    The efficiency of a Carnot Engine is described by the relationship: Tc/Th = Qc/Qh, so that e(Carnot) = 1 - Tc/Th For heat engines, can their efficiency also be related to temperature as well? Or is the description of their efficiency just: e(heat engine) = W / Qh = 1 - Qc/Qh I am inclined to...
  46. A

    Thermodynamics - Carnot Cycle-esque question?

    Homework Statement A reversible heat engine produces work from the temperature difference that exists between a mass of m = 9 kg of an ideal gas (cv = 716 J/kgK, R = 287 J/kgK) in a rigid container and a heat reservoir at THR = 285 K. The only heat transfer interaction experienced by the...