Chemical energy is the type of energy which is found in the bonds of chemical compounds. We can find this energy in atoms or molecules when it is released during a chemical reaction, held within their covalent bonds. Heat is released when the energy is accessed, which creates an exothermic reaction.
To break the bonds, releasing the energy in the first place, the energy required is referred to as endothermic.
Chemical energy was first proposed by Josiah Gibbs during a time in the United States when theoretical science was not rigorously practiced. His ideas were difficult to understand at the time, and his papers were often published by his brother-in-law. That didn’t do much for his credibility at the time.
Although Gibbs may not have been well-known from a publishing standpoint, he was regularly communicating with over 200 notable scientists. Over time, the influence Gibbs had on physical chemistry and statistical mathematics helped to bring our global society closer toward how we understand modern science.
Most energy types that we use today rely on chemical energy to supply useable power. Any time a product is combusted, it is releasing chemical energy that we will then consume. Fossil fuels, man-made items, and even nuclear reactions all offer us access to chemical energy.
There are several advantages and disadvantages of chemical energy which must be considered when examining this resource. Here are some of the top key points to consider.
List of the Top Advantages of Chemical Energy
1. Chemical energy is incredibly abundant.
This energy resource is one of the most abundant options for power that we can access today. Almost any type of organic material offers the potential to provide chemical energy that we can use. Many of us use this type of energy every day without even realizing it. If you turn on your gas fireplace or light a campfire, you’re taking advantage of the processes which produce chemical energy.
2. We can access the energy quite easily.
There are few special processes that are required to access the full potential of chemical energy. In many instances, we can immediately access the energy. If you turn on a gas oven, for example, you’re using the chemical energy process to create heat that will cook your food. Combustion can be easily controlled. It can be directly maintained. That is why it is one of the cheapest forms of energy that we can use today.
3. Chemical energy can be physically stored for future use.
Although we all use energy throughout each day, we use it at varying levels. Our resources that provide chemical energy can be easily stored or stockpiled for future use, allowing us to conserve energy when we have no need for it. In the United States, there is enough coal stored to meet our current energy needs for more than a generation. In a backyard, there might be enough wood stored for a stove to provide heat all winter long.
4. It provides consumers with a high-density load when consumed.
Chemical energy processes release a surprisingly large amount of energy that we can consume for a variety of purposes. The high-density nature of this energy allows us to fly aircraft, dry cars, or stay warm on a cold day. Our awareness of the potential in chemical energy allows us to develop new technologies that are based on this substantial resource, which may one day become the foundation of how we create a new colonial era within our solar system.
5. We can control the effects of chemical energy within our environment.
The damage that is caused by uncontrolled and unregulated chemical energy use is quite profound. Over the last 40 years, we’ve seen many changes occur within our planetary atmosphere, some of which is attributed to our consumption of chemical energy. From the hole in the ozone layer to the planetary warming trends being experienced, we have discovered that when chemical energy is consumed responsibly, we can repair previous damage without placing future generations at-risk of inheriting an unhealthy planet.
6. Chemical energy is an efficient source of power.
For chemical energy reactions to be effective, there must be a source of oxygen present to complete the reaction. We have the capability to control micro-environments with precision to allow the combustion process to be as efficient as possible. The energy released by the chemical energy processes can be directed toward where it will be consumed immediately, which reduces the amount of overall energy loss that is experienced.
7. It can generate high levels of economic activity.
From start to finish, the chemical energy cycle creates economic activities that help us support modern lifestyles. Farmers that grow corn or sugarcane for fuel earn an income by providing this base resource. Miners earn a living by accessing raw materials. Then refiners earn an income by turning base materials into a fuel that can be consumed. As we consume that fuel, we pursue careers, take care of our families, and create educational opportunities. Then we take what we’ve learned to become more efficient at the beginning of the production cycle and start over once again.
8. We can use it to create renewable energy resources.
Although chemical energy reactions do require a one-time consumption, we can use the energy to create items that will provide renewable energy. Chemical energy can be used to create turbines that bring us power from the wind. It can be used to create photovoltaic panels that allows us to harvest energy from sunlight. We can also obtain chemical energy from organic items that can be quickly grown. One hectare of sugar cane can product 180 tons of cane stalk per harvest, with some locations generating 2-3 harvests per year.
9. The power released through chemical energy can be stored for future use as well.
Let’s say that you’re reading this content on a smartphone. You’ve got power on your phone because of a battery. You charge that battery from an outlet, which receives electrical power from your local distribution network. A good phone these days, on standby mode, can maintain 7+ days of service without needing another charge because of its capability of storing energy. Although chemical energy is immediately released, we have the ability to store it to consume it when we need it. The largest battery in the world was built by Tesla is able to store 100 megawatts of power.
List of the Top Disadvantages of Chemical Energy
1. To access chemical energy, we must usually rely on combustion.
To obtain energy through chemical energy, we must usually create a combustion reaction. Combustion does provide an advantage in that it makes the energy instantly available to us. For every reaction, however, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. When we combust items, we destroy them. Once we’ve consumed an item through chemical energy, it is gone. We cannot repetitively use it.
2. It is not a clean form of energy.
The process of combustion releases byproducts into the atmosphere that may have long-term harmful effects. The number of byproducts that are released depend upon the type of material that is being consumed through chemical energy processes. Coal releases heavy loads of particulates, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide when it is combusted. Natural gas, on the other hand, releases very few emissions with clean-capture technologies. When clean energy is required, chemical energy processes cannot usually be used.
3. We cannot replace chemical energy resources.
There are billions of barrels of crude oil in reserve on our planet right now. We have trillions of cubic meters of natural gas. When these energy resources are consumed, however, they disappear. We need more of the product to obtain more energy. For wood fuel, plant fuels, and other bio-based resources, it is easier to replenish our supply, but the principle still exists. Once you’ve used chemical energy, you must consume more to continue receiving desired results.
4. Chemical energy resources can be very expensive.
Most forms of chemical energy are produced through naturally-occurring resources. Many of them are organically-based. That means it can be costly to access those resources. To drive our cars, we must first refine petroleum into gasoline. For coal to generate electricity, we must mine it, then transport it to where it will be consumed. Even homes with a wood stove must cut down a tree and split logs to consume the energy
5. The availability of some chemical energy resources is quite limited.
One of the most efficient forms of chemical energy that we use today comes from uranium. Although the power received from chemical energy through uranium can be 20,000 times higher than other forms of energy, the actual availability of uranium is quite limited. Only a handful of countries have ever located uranium resources that can be accessed. Once the uranium has been consumed, it must be replaced to continue using that technology. That means the infrastructures we build for chemical energy solutions may become worthless if we lose access to the core materials being used.
6. Chemical energy can produce toxic waste materials.
One of the biggest disadvantages of chemical energy is that heat is only one byproduct of its release. Many forms of chemical energy will also release radiation during the power generation process. We have technologies which control exposure levels to this radiation release, though that doesn’t lessen the dangers we may encounter. There have been more than a dozen nuclear incidents involved power facilities and reactors on ships or submarines since the technology has been invented. Black lung disease is an ongoing issue for coal miners.
7. We can harm others through the use of chemical energy technologies.
The use of poison gas in the conflict in Syria is just one example of how we can harm other people using chemical energy technologies. The missiles fired by the U.S., the U.K., and France at Syrian facilities to stop the production of chemical weapons is another form of weaponizing chemical energy. The most devastating example of what we can do with chemical energy was shown in the closing days of World War II over Japan. With chemical energy technologies, we literally have the power to destroy our planet under the right conditions.
8. Chemical energy may have unintended disadvantages we don’t even know about.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, our planet has experienced many lifestyle benefits. We have worked to eradicate disease. We have improved technologies that extend life. We have also made the oceans more acidic, potentially warmed our atmosphere by more than 2 degrees, and created other unknown long-term issues that may affect the health of our planet for future generations. We often look at the benefits that are immediately received with this resource without considering what might happen 10, 50, or 100 years from now.
The top advantages and disadvantages of chemical energy let us see how beneficial this resource happens to be for us. They also show us how much devastation chemical energy may cause under certain conditions. We have a responsibility to use chemical energy in a way that benefits us today, tomorrow, and well into the future.