Chemical Energy: What is it?

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Energy is the ability to do work and can be grouped into potential or kinetic categories. Chemical energy is a form of potential energy stored in food, fuel, and batteries. Energy can be converted from one form to another, and during chemical reactions, molecules can be created or destroyed. Respiration converts chemical energy into heat and kinetic energy. Fuel, such as wood and petroleum, can also release energy when burned. Photosynthesis converts radiant energy into chemical energy stored in plants, which can be used by animals.

Scientifically, energy is defined as the ability to do work. While there are many forms of energy, they can be grouped into two categories: potential energy or stored energy; and kinetic energy, or energy of motion. Chemical energy is a form of potential energy and is possessed by things like food, fuel, and batteries.
Within each energy category, there are many different forms of energy. Chemical energy is a form of potential energy, together with mechanical energy, gravitational energy, nuclear energy and electrical energy. All of these forms of energy are stored within an object and are converted into forms of kinetic energy when a force or change is applied. The different forms of kinetic energy are radiant energy, which includes light, x-rays and radio waves, heat, motion, and sound.

As the first law of thermodynamics states, energy can neither be created nor destroyed; can only be converted from one form to another. During chemical reactions, molecules can be created or destroyed. If a product is created, chemical energy is stored in the bonds that make up the molecules. If something breaks, chemical energy is released, usually in the form of heat. If a reaction releases energy, it is called exothermic and if it absorbs energy, it is called endothermic.

An example of chemical energy is that found in the food we eat. Energy is stored in the bonds of the molecules that make up food. When we eat food, large molecules are broken down into smaller molecules that can be used by the body’s cells. The process of our cells breaking down and using food is called respiration. During respiration, chemical energy is converted into heat, kinetic energy, and other forms of chemical energy, such as that stored in our body’s fat cells.

Food is just one example of fuel: it’s how animals, including humans, fuel their bodies. Other forms of fuel include wood and chemicals, such as petroleum. When wood is burned, the chemical energy within the cells of the wood breaks down and heat is released. In a car or truck engine, the energy in gasoline is converted into heat and movement, to get the car moving.

Kinetic energy can also be converted into potential energy. During the photosynthesis process carried out by plants, radiant energy, or sunlight, is converted into chemical energy, which is stored within the plant. When animals eat plants, the reverse reaction occurs. The bonds are broken, which releases the stored chemical energy for use by the animals.

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