Chemical energy is stored in the bonds of a chemical compound that connect atoms with other atoms, similar to what occurs inside other molecules. When a chemical reaction occurs to release those bonds, then the energy escapes its containment. Under most circumstances, this activity transforms into a completely new substance as an outcome. By definition, this makes it a form of potential energy
Heat is the primary byproduct of a chemical energy release, which also means it becomes an exothermic reaction. It is the most widely used energy type in the world today, and it is critical to the existence of the natural world and human life as we know it.
There are several ways that you can see chemical energy in action every day. When you have something to eat, then the bonds between the atoms break and loosen during the digestive process. New compounds are made so that the body has the nutrients it needs, your body temperature stays regulated, and children can grow. You can also find chemical energy in wood, coal, biomass, and even the air bags in a vehicle.
Chemical energy provides us with several more advantages and disadvantages to consider as well.
List of the Advantages of Chemical Energy
1. Chemical energy can be converted into electrical energy.
When there is a combustive force at a power plant, it is the potential energy from the chemical reaction that gives us the fuel needed to create electricity. Coal-fired power plants are the most common type of conversion that we can see with this advantage, but it is possible with natural gas, biomass, and wood. As long as there is stored chemical energy presence in the substance, the chemical reaction can turn it into something different and we can use what gets released for specific needs.
2. Plants have the energy to grow because of chemical energy.
When sunlight strikes our planet, it gives us high levels of light energy. If we could capture all of it in a single day, then we would have enough power to replace every power plant in the world for an entire year – that’s a lot of energy! Plants love the sunshine because it gives them the chance to start the processes of photosynthesis. As the carbon dioxide is “breathed” in, the roots, water, and minerals from the soil combine with the light to transform the gas into oxygen. Glucose is made from this process as well. Without any one of these factors, we wouldn’t have life on this planet as we know it.
3. It is available in great abundance throughout the world.
This energy resource is one of the most plentiful prospects for power that we can obtain right now. Almost any kind of natural substance provides the potential to produce chemical energy that we can then use in a variety of ways.
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. Even reading this content on your PC, smartphone, or tablet takes advantage of this reaction.
4. Chemical energy is easy to consume.
When comparing chemical energy to any other source, this option is the easiest to combust so that it can release its full potential. That means we have instant energy to use for any form of heat. As long as there is some way to ignite the source so that the bonds can break, the oxygen content in the atmosphere around the item will provide what is necessary for life. Because it is such a simple process to follow that anyone can create, it is one of the most cost-effective energy resources that we use every day.
5. We can store chemical energy so that it can be used in the future.
We use different levels of chemical energy each day to meet specific needs. There are times when there isn’t a need to use all of it at once, which means we can stockpile our resources for the future. Coal can last for decades when properly cared for after mining and processing. You can stack firewood in the backyard to use all winter. Even when you put food into the refrigerator, you’re taking advantage of this benefit because you can eat something at a later time when you feel hungry.
6. It offers a high combustion efficiency.
We can put items through a refinement process to increase the amount of chemical energy that is available in some items. High-octane fuels, rocket fuel, and similar products encourage a stronger, faster release during the combustion process so that more energy is usable immediately. This benefit allows us to make vehicles drive faster, fly higher, or take care of specific chores around the home with ease – like mowing the lawn.
Some items provide a better efficiency rate for chemical energy than others. That is the primary reason why we continue to use crude oil products over natural items in other categories. When there is enough oxygen available, the amount of power received can help us to take care of several needs without a significant investment.
7. We can direct chemical energy toward specific uses.
We have the power to direct chemical energy toward excellent or poor outcomes based on the decisions that all of us make every day. When we put too much carbon dioxide into our atmosphere by burning natural gas, oil, and coal, then the gas spreads around the world like a blanket. It is one of the primary gases that absorbs infrared radiation, which is the majority of what solar heat provides. Our use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons created ozone depletion issues.
When we are responsible with chemical energy, then our needs can be effectively met with a minimal investment. If we are irresponsible with our choices, then the results can turn out to be disastrous.
8. Chemical energy provides us with an efficient power resource.
Another advantage to consider with chemical energy is the instant gratification that it provides. We can direct this process toward whatever our immediate needs are at any given moment. If you are cold, then you can start a fire to warm your body up. When you’re hungry, then you can turn on a stove to start cooking food. Because oxygen is a primary ingredient in the reaction that releases the energy from its bonds, we also have the power to control the intensity of the final outcome.
9. It is the foundation of almost every economic activity.
The chemical energy cycles provide us with economic opportunities that support our currently lifestyle. This journey begins with the farmer, who decides to grow products that we can use for fuel or food. Their income can then pay other businesses who support their activities, such as a feed mill. Miners and drillers access raw materials for us to use for a variety of needs, helping us to create electricity or they hydrocarbons needed to make anything from soap to gasoline.
Even grocery stores are part of this cycle because they provide access to food products that people need to create internal chemical energy reactions of their own. If we can focus on efficient actions in each process, then it is possible to maximize economic activities.
10. We can turn chemical energy into a sustainable resource.
Chemical energy is responsible for the growth of items like bamboo or sugarcane that we can use to make environmentally friendly fuels and miscellaneous other products. We can turn hydrocarbons into photovoltaic panels that harvest the solar energy we feel every day. Even algae farms take advantage of this scientific principle as they research the future of fuel so that we can move away from items that contribute to the global warming effect of our planet. When we focus on this advantage, it is possible for some products to receive 3-4 harvests each year on the same croplands.
11. We can store the energy released from the chemical reaction too.
If you save firewood, then you’re saving chemical energy for a later time when you need to be warm – or make s’mores. When your iPhone decides to run through a full charge in 30 minutes flat for some reason, connecting your charger will also let you store the energy released through the chemical process. The energy might be released immediately once its bonds are broken, but we have the ability to keep it stored for later use in a variety of ways. Even though there is an eventual degradation in the amount that we keep, it is still an effective way to store over 100 MW of energy using current technologies.
List of the Disadvantages of Chemical Energy
1. The primary way to obtain chemical energy is through a combustive process.
There are several benefits to consider with chemical energy, but there is also a price that we pay to gain access to it in the first place. Almost all forms of it require some type of combustion for it to become usable. Although eating food is an exception to this disadvantage, it is essential to remember that there is an equal and opposite reaction to each combustive effort we take to access this resource. Items might be transformed into an entirely new product, but they are all consumable. We might get heat from coal, but we can’t keep using the same bricks repetitively to keep getting electricity.
2. Chemical energy can be harmful to the environment.
When natural items go through the combustion process to release energy, then there is typically a greenhouse gas released from the process. Carbon dioxide is the most common pollution item we see with this disadvantage, but it can also involve methane, various oxides, and particulates. Even if we use clean-capture technologies to limit the amount of potentially harmful gases that go into the atmosphere, it is not a 100% clean energy. Even the creation of photovoltaic panels creates an atmospheric debt that we can only hope to repay one day.
Some items are cleaner than others with this key point, such as natural gas vs. coal. There might be a clear difference between the two, but both still release pollutants.
3. It is impossible to replace an expended chemical energy resource.
Our world goes through billions of barrels of crude oil every day to make fuels, consumer products, plastics, and more. We are consuming natural gas by the trillions of cubic meters as well. Rainforests are being commercialized as a way to create more land for agricultural work. Although some of the natural items can be replanted to make something new, such as a tree, many of our chemical energy resources are not replaceable. Once you consume the chemical energy through its transformation process, there is a need to use more of it to keep getting the desired results.
4. Chemical energy isn’t always the cheapest option.
Even though there are numerous resources of chemical energy that are cost-efficient to use, there are several more that require a significant economic investment to create. You don’t pull gasoline up from the ground when you want to drive somewhere, right? The crude oil must first come up from its well. Then a pipeline, tanker, or another transportation method hauls the product to a refinery. It is there that the hydrocarbons can turn into a usable fuel, which is then transported to a delivery station so that you can purchase it.
When there is a high level of refinement, requiring multiple chemical energy reactions to create a final product, then it is the wealthier segments of society who benefit from its advantages.
5. There are limitations on the amount of chemical energy a reaction creates.
One of the reasons why we build power plants around an item like enriched uranium is the fact that it offers a chemical energy release that is 20,000 times higher than some other forms of energy. Once you consume it, then there must be more made available to continue having access to desired level of power. According to the World Nuclear Association, Kazakhstan is the top producer as of 2016 figures, offering 23,800 tons to the world. Canada came in second at 13,325 tons, while Australia was third at 5,672 tons. The United States finished 9th that year with 1,256 tons.
We can find chemical energy in almost any natural product. What we do not always discover is an efficient product with high capacity levels.
6. It can be used for improper purposes.
Chemical energy can be used to harm others just as easily as it is usable to create positive outcomes. From the poisons used on civilian populations in Syria to the terrorist attacks that happen around the world, people can use this resource as a weapon. We can be intentional with this disadvantage, such as the U.S. was with the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1940s. It can also come about because of an accident, as we saw with the Chernobyl disaster.
Natural disasters can also become the foundation of chemical energy problems, which is an issue that we saw in Fukushima after a tidal wave caused a reactor meltdown. We have the power to save our planet with this option, but we also have the ability to destroy it.
7. Chemical energy can leave behind toxic waste products.
One of the most significant disadvantages of chemical energy is that there are several byproducts that release into the environment upon consumption. Multiple resources can release radiation during the releasing process. Any unused byproducts left in the background can be harmful as well.
We have technologies that regulate exposure levels to the potentially harmful actions of some chemical energy types. That knowledge does not reduce the uncertainties we might encounter. Black lung disease is a continuing problem for coal miners. Over a dozen nuclear accidents have occurred over the past 50 years. Even a forest fire can provide communities with devastating consequences.
8. There could be long-term consequences of which we are unaware.
There have been many advantages over the centuries as we have worked to understand all of the benefits of chemical energy. We have created vaccinations, eliminated diseases, made electricity affordable, and grow enough food for everyone in the world to have their minimum calorie count every day. We’re also acidifying our oceans, creating microplastic pollution, and adding high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If you asked the founders of the Industrial Revolution where the world would be in 100 years, what we have today wouldn’t have been in their vision. We must take that perspective into account as we prepare our world for future generations.
Verdict of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Chemical Energy
Chemical energy allows us to manage the needs of life effectively without a significant investment under most circumstances. We can access it readily whenever there is a specific need, such as being hungry, cold, or tired.
It can also be used to harm others. This energy can help us to grow crops, or it can be used to create a weapon of mass destruction.
The advantages and disadvantages of chemical energy show us that it is our responsibility to be the caretakers of our planet, our families, and our lives. When we can focus on the benefits of this release, then it is easier to work for the mutual good of everyone.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.