When you think about thermal energy, you might think about the Sun or magma in the Earth’s crust that you learned about in school. However, thermal energy is utilized in things that you use in everyday life and might not realize it: cooking, smoking, baking, heating, drying, and cooling.
Thermal energy also plays a critical role in the supply chain and keeping temperature-sensitive products like pharmaceuticals and food within the optimum temperature range.
Here are eight fun facts about thermal energy that will blow your mind!
1. Thermal energy and heat aren’t the same thing
Sometimes these terms get used interchangeably, but they are in fact very different. Thermal energy is stored or internal, whereas heat is the transfer of energy between two objects.
2. Thermal energy and temperature aren’t the same either!
Similarly, thermal energy and temperature are different as well. They often get spoken about as if they’re the same thing but thermal energy comes into play when you consider the number of particles in a space. A cup of water and a gallon of water can be the same temperature, but a gallon has much more thermal energy because of its relative volume.
3. Ice cube isn’t cooling your drink, your drink is heating the ice cube
This can be a tough one for people to wrap their heads around sometimes. We use ice cubes to keep our drinks cold, but technically what’s happening is that heat from the drink is taken away to warm the ice cube, causing it to melt and then lower the temperature of the drink.
4. There are 3 types of heat transfer - convection, conduction, and radiation
5. Water is one of the only things that expands when it freezes
Have you ever noticed how if you freeze a water bottle that’s completely full, it will break open? That’s because water is one of the only things that expands when it freezes – most others shrink in cold temperatures. It’s an anomaly because of its molecular structure, joined by elements like gallium, silicone, geranium, bismuth, and plutonium.
6. One megawatt-hour of electricity produced from solar thermal energy prevents the emission one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere
7. $15.2 Billion of pharmaceutical products are lost every year because of temperature excursions
8. Thermal energy was first discovered in 1847
James Prescott Joule, after whom the unit of heat energy is named, was experimenting with fluids and he found that when he agitated the fluid, its temperature increased. He and his team then performed mechanical work on a float and in doing so converted that mechanical energy to thermal energy!