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Introductory Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics: Basic Concepts

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The authors introduce the two basic premises of the first and second "laws" of thermodynamics: overall energy is conserved (you can't get something for nothing) and overall entropy changes are greater than or equal to zero (generation of disorder results in lost work).
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  • "Aside from the logical and mathematical sciences, there are three great branches of natural science which stand apart by reason of the variety of far reaching deductions drawn from a small number of primary postulates. They are mechanics, electromagnetics, and thermodynamics.
  • These sciences are monuments to the power of the human mind; and their intensive study is amply repaid by the aesthetic and intellectual satisfaction derived from a recognition of order and simplicity which have been discovered among the most complex of natural phenomena... Yet the greatest development of applied thermodynamics is still to come. It has been predicted that the era into which we are passing will be known as the chemical age; but the fullest employment of chemical science in meeting the various needs of society can be made only through the constant use of the methods of thermodynamics."
  • Lewis and Randall (1923)

Lewis and Randall eloquently summarized the broad significance of thermodynamics as long ago as 1923. They went on to describe a number of the miraculous scientific developments of the time and the relevant roles of thermodynamics. Historically, thermodynamics has guided the development of steam engines, refrigerators, nuclear power plants, and rocket nozzles, to name just a few. The principles remain important today in the refinement of alternative refrigerants, heat pumps, and improved turbines, and also in technological advances including computer chips, superconductors, advanced materials, fermentations, biological cycles, and bioengineered pharmaceuticals. These latter-day "miracles" might appear to have little to do with power generation and refrigeration cycles at first thought. Nevertheless, as Lewis and Randall point out, the implications of the postulates of thermodynamics are far-reaching and will continue to be important in the development of even newer technologies. Much of modern thermodynamics focuses on characterization of the properties of mixtures, as their constituents partition into stable phases or inhomogeneous domains, and react. The capacity of thermodynamics to bring "quantitative precision in place of the old, vague ideas"1 is as germane today as it was then.

Before overwhelming you with the details that comprise thermodynamics, we outline a few "primary postulates" as clearly as possible and put them into the context of what we will refer to as classical equilibrium thermodynamics. In casual terms, our primary premises can be expressed as follows:

  1. You can't get something for nothing. (Energy is conserved.)
  2. Maintaining order requires work. (Entropy generation leads to lost work.)2

Occasionally, it may seem that we are discussing principles that are much more sophisticated. But the fact is that all of our discussions can be reduced to these fundamental principles. The first principle is a casual statement of the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy) which will be introduced in Chapters 2 and 3. The second principle is a casual statement of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy balance) which will be introduced in Chapter 4. When you find yourself in the midst of a difficult problem, it may be helpful to remember the underlying principles. We will see that coupling these two principles with some slightly sophisticated reasoning (mathematics included) leads to many clear and reliable insights about a wide range of subjects from energy crises to high-tech materials, from environmental remediation to biosynthesis. The bad news is that the level of sophistication required is not likely to be instantly assimilated by the average student. The good news is that many students have passed this way before, and the proper trail is about as well marked as one might hope.

There is less-than-universal agreement on what comprises "thermodynamics." If we simply take the word apart, "thermo" sounds like "thermal," which ought to have something to do with heat, temperature, or energy. "Dynamics" ought to have something to do with movement. And if we could just leave the identification of thermodynamics as the study of "energy movements," it would be sufficient for the purposes of this text. Unfortunately, such a definition would not clarify what distinguishes thermodynamics from, say, transport phenomena or kinetics, so we should spend some time clarifying the definition of thermodynamics in this way before moving on to the definitions of temperature, heat, energy, and so on.

The definition of thermodynamics as the study of energy movements has evolved considerably to include classical equilibrium thermodynamics, quantum thermodynamics, statistical thermodynamics, and irreversible thermodynamics as well as nonequilibrium thermodynamics. Classical thermodynamics has the general connotation of referring to the implications of constraints related to multivariable calculus as developed by J.W. Gibbs. We spend a significant effort applying these insights in developing generalized equations for the thermodynamic properties of pure substances. Statistical thermodynamics focuses on the idea that knowing the precise states of 1023 atoms is not practical and prescribes ways of computing the average properties of interest based on very limited measurements. We touch on this principle in our introduction to entropy, in our kinetic theory and molecular dynamics, and in the formulation of the internal energy relative to the intermolecular potential energy. We generally refrain from detailed formulation of all the statistical averages, however, maintaining the focus on simple concepts of molecular interactions. Irreversible thermodynamics and nonequilibrium thermodynamics emphasize the ways that local concentrations of atoms and energy evolve over periods of time. At this point, it becomes clear that such a broad characterization of thermodynamics would overlap with transport phenomena and kinetics in a way that would begin to be confusing at the introductory level. Nevertheless, these fields of study represent legitimate subtopics within the general realm of thermodynamics.

1.1 Introduction

These considerations should give you some idea of the potential range of applications possible within the general study of thermodynamics. This text will try to find a happy medium. One general unifying principle about the perspective offered by thermodynamics is that there are certain properties that are invariant with respect to time. For example, the process of diffusion may indicate some changes in the system with time, but the diffusion coefficient is a property which only depends on a temperature, density, and composition profile. A thermodynamicist would consider the diffusion process as something straightforward given the diffusion coefficient, and focus on understanding the diffusion coefficient. A transport specialist would just estimate the diffusion coefficient as best as he could and get on with it. A kineticist would want to know how fast the diffusion was relative to other processes involved. In more down-to-earth terms, if we were touring about the countryside, the thermodynamicists would want to know where we were going, the transport specialists would want to know how long it takes to get there, and the kineticists would want to know how fast the fuel was running out.

In thermodynamics we utilize a few basic concepts: energy, entropy, and equilibrium. The ways in which these are related to one another and to temperature, pressure, and density are best understood in terms of the connections provided by molecular mechanisms. These connections, in turn, can be summarized by the thermodynamic model (e.g., ideal gas), our quantitative description of the substance. Showing how energy and entropy couple with molecular characteristics to impact chemical process applications is the primary goal of this text. These insights should stick with you long after you have forgotten how to estimate any particular thermodynamic property, a heat capacity or activity coefficient, for example. We will see how assuming a thermodynamic model and applying the rules of thermodynamics leads to precise and extremely general insights relevant to many applications. A general theme throughout the text (and arguably throughout engineering) is: observe, predict, test, and evaluate. The prediction phase usually involves a model equation. Testing and evaluation expose limitations of the prospective model, which leads to a new cycle of observation, prediction... We terminate this hierarchy at an introductory level, but it never really ends. Extending this hierarchy is the source of innovation that must serve you for the next 50 years.

Chapter Objectives: You Should Be Able to...

  1. Explain the definitions and relations between temperature, molecular kinetic energy, molecular potential energy and macroscopic internal energy, including the role of intermolecular potential energy and how it is modeled. Explain why the ideal gas internal energy depends only on temperature.
  2. Explain the molecular origin of pressure.
  3. Apply the vocabulary of thermodynamics with words such as the following: work, quality, interpolation, sink/reservoir, absolute temperature, open/closed system, intensive/extensive property, subcooled, saturated, superheated.
  4. Explain the advantages and limitations of the ideal gas model.
  5. Sketch and interpret paths on a P-V diagram.
  6. Perform steam table computations like quality determination, double interpolation.
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