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Heat transfer and efficiency

Heat can be transferred from place to place by conduction [conduction: The transfer of heat energy through a material - without the material itself moving. ], convection [convection: The transfer of heat energy through a moving liquid or gas. ] and radiation [infrared radiation: Electromagnetic radiation emitted from a hot object. ]. Dark matt surfaces are better at absorbing heat energy than light shiny surfaces. Heat energy can be lost from homes in many different ways and there are ways of reducing these heat losses.

There are several different types of energy, and these can be transferred from one type to another. Energy transfer diagrams show the energy transfers in a process. More efficient devices transfer the energy supplied to them into a greater proportion of useful energy than less efficient devices do.

Heat transfer by conduction and convection

Heat is thermal energy. It can be transferred from one place to another by conduction, convection and radiation. Conduction and convection involve particles, but radiation involves electromagnetic waves.


Thermogram of a pan being heated on a stove

Heat energy can move through a substance by conduction. Metals are good conductors of heat, but non-metals and gases are usually poor conductors of heat. Poor conductors of heat are called insulators. Heat energy is conducted from the hot end of an object to the cold end.

The electrons in piece of metal can leave their atoms and move about in the metal as free electrons. The parts of the metal atoms left behind are now charged metal ions. The ions are packed closely together and they vibrate continually. The hotter the metal, the more kinetic energy these vibrations have. This kinetic energy is transferred from hot parts of the metal to cooler parts by the free electrons. These move through the structure of the metal, colliding with ions as they go.

Heat transfer by conduction

Step 1 - metal is heated


Liquids and gases are fluids. The particles in these fluids can move from place to place. Convection occurs when particles with a lot of heat energy in a liquid or gas move and take the place of particles with less heat energy. Heat energy is transferred from hot places to cooler places by convection.

Liquids and gases expand when they are heated. This is because the particles in liquids and gases move faster when they are heated than they do when they are cold. As a result, the particles take up more volume. This is because the gap between particles widens, while the particles themselves stay the same size.

The liquid or gas in hot areas is less dense than the liquid or gas in cold areas, so it rises into the cold areas. The denser cold liquid or gas falls into the warm areas. In this way, convection currents that transfer heat from place to place are set up.

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