Specific latent heat

Changing the internal energy of a material will cause it to change temperature or change state:

Specific latent heat is the amount of energy required to change the state of 1 kilogram (kg) of a material without changing its temperature.

As there can be two boundaries for change, solid/liquid and liquid/gas, each material has two specific latent heats:

  • latent heat of fusion - the amount of energy needed to freeze or melt the material at its melting point
  • latent heat of vaporisation - the amount of energy needed to evaporate or condense the material at its boiling point

Some typical values for specific latent heat include:

SubstanceSpecific latent heat of fusion (kJ/kg)Specific latent heat of vaporisation (kJ/kg)

An input of 334,000 joules (J) of energy is needed to change 1 kg of ice into 1 kg of water at its melting point of 0°C. The same amount of energy needs to be taken out of the liquid to freeze it.

Calculating thermal energy changes

The amount of thermal energy stored or released as the temperature of a system changes can be calculated using the equation:

change in thermal energy = mass × specific latent heat

\ Q \ = \ ml \

This is when:

  • change in thermal energy (Q) is measured in joules (J)
  • mass (m) is measured in kilograms (kg)
  • specific latent heat (l) is measured in joules per kilogram (J/kg)

How much energy is needed to freeze 500 grams (g) of water at 0°C?

\ Q \ = \ ml \

\ Q \ = \ 0.5 \times 334,000 \

\ Q \ = \ 167,000 \ J \

Measuring latent heat

Latent heat can be measured from a heating or cooling curve line graph. If a heater of known power is used, such as a 60 watt (W) immersion heater that provides 60 J/s, the temperature of a known mass of ice can be monitored each second. This will generate a graph that looks like this.

Graph measuring time against temperature, looking at the temperature changes between solid, liquid and gas for ice, water and steam.

The graph is horizontal at two places. These are the places where the energy is not being used to increase the speed of the particles, and therefore not increasing temperature, but is being used to break the bonds between the particles to change state.

The longer the horizontal line, the more energy has been used to cause the change of state. The amount of absorbed heat energy represented by these horizontal lines is equal to the latent heat.


If a horizontal line that shows boiling on a heating curve is 1 hour 3 minutes long, how much energy has a 60 W heater provided to the water?

63 minutes = 3,780 s

60 W means 60 J of energy is supplied every second

energy = power × time

energy = 60 × 3,780

energy = 226,000 J


If this energy had been applied to 100 g of water, what is the specific latent heat of vaporisation of water?

226,000 J for 100 g is equivalent to 2,260,000 J for 1 kg. The specific latent heat of vaporisation of water is 2,260,000 J/kg.