Can Energy Be Destroyed Or Created?

Can energy be destroyed or created?

The question of whether energy can be created or destroyed has captivated human curiosity for centuries. Ancient philosophers pondered the nature of energy and motion, while modern physicists use the laws of thermodynamics to describe how energy flows and transforms. Though the specifics have evolved over time, the underlying question remains relevant today: is energy immutable, or can we make and unmake it at will? In this article, we’ll explore the physics governing energy and its transformations. We’ll look at real-world examples that showcase energy’s strange properties, the implications for energy technology, and the limits of what humans can do when it comes to manipulating the universe’s energy.

Laws of Thermodynamics

The first law of thermodynamics is a fundamental law of physics that states energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. According to the first law, the total energy of an isolated system is constant. An isolated system is defined as one where no energy can enter or leave. The first law of thermodynamics is essentially a statement of the conservation of energy.

The first law can be mathematically stated as: ΔE = Q – W, where ΔE is the change in the internal energy of the system, Q is the amount of heat added to the system, and W is the amount of work done by the system. This law implies that the change in the internal energy of a system is equal to the difference between the heat added to the system from its surroundings and the work done by the system on its surroundings.

Some key implications of the first law of thermodynamics are:

  • Energy cannot be created out of nothing.
  • Energy cannot be destroyed to nothing.
  • The total amount of energy in the universe is constant.
  • Energy can only change its form, shifting among kinetic energy, potential energy, and others.

The first law provides the basic definition of energy and is the fundamental principle of its conservation. It is considered one of the most fundamental laws in all of physics.

Forms of Energy

Energy exists in many different forms that can be categorized as either potential or kinetic energy. Potential energy is stored energy based on an object’s position or arrangement. For example, gravitational potential energy depends on an object’s height, while chemical potential energy exists in the bonds between atoms and molecules. Kinetic energy is energy of motion that an object possesses due to its velocity. The different forms of energy include:

Potential Energy:

  • Gravitational potential energy – depends on an object’s mass and height relative to the ground or another object
  • Elastic potential energy – depends on how much an elastic material has been stretched or compressed
  • Chemical potential energy – energy stored in the bonds between atoms and molecules

Kinetic Energy:

  • Mechanical energy – the energy an object possesses due to its motion
  • Radiant energy – energy that is emitted or absorbed in the form of electromagnetic waves such as light
  • Thermal energy – energy associated with the random motion of particles that make up matter
  • Sound energy – energy carried by pressure waves through air or another medium
  • Electrical energy – energy derived from electric potential or kinetic energy of moving electrons
  • Nuclear energy – energy stored in the nucleus of an atom and released in nuclear reactions

Energy can transition between different forms, but it is never created or destroyed. For example, chemical potential energy in gasoline can be converted into kinetic energy to move a car.

Energy Transformations

Energy transformations occur constantly around us as energy changes from one form to another. According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one state to another. Here are some common examples of energy transformations:

Mechanical energy can be transformed into light and sound energy, as seen in a guitar which converts string vibrations into music and a lightbulb which converts electrical energy into light. Chemical energy in food and fuel is converted into thermal energy and mechanical energy in our bodies and vehicles. Solar panels transform radiant light energy from the sun into electrical energy. Dams transform the mechanical energy of falling water into electrical energy through hydroelectric power. Nuclear reactors harness nuclear energy released in fission reactions to generate electricity.

On a molecular level, chemical energy stored in molecular bonds can be released as heat, light, motion, or electricity. For instance, metabolic processes in our cells break down nutrients to generate ATP molecules used for energy. During cellular respiration, energy stored in glucose molecules transforms into kinetic energy, thermal energy, and ATP. In photosynthesis, radiant light energy is converted and stored as chemical energy in plants.

According to the law of conservation of energy, the total energy in a closed system remains constant, while transformations occur between different energy types. The ability to harness different energy forms through technology has enabled innovations such as electric power, batteries, internal combustion engines, and more.


The law of conservation of energy has profound implications for our universe. According to the law, the total amount of energy in the universe remains constant over time (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022). This means that the universe contains a fixed amount of energy that cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed from one form to another.

For example, chemical energy can be converted into kinetic energy when gasoline is burned in a car engine. The gasoline had stored chemical energy and through combustion, that chemical energy was transformed into heat and motion (kinetic energy) to power the car. However, the total amount of energy in the universe remains the same. The chemical energy of the gasoline was not destroyed, it was simply converted into a different form of energy (Williams, 2022).

This principle applies across all interactions and processes in the universe. Energy cannot be created from nothing or reduced to nothing. It can only change forms. This has profound meaning for our understanding of the universe and its origins. The energy making up all matter and forces has always existed and always will (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022).

The law of conservation of energy is considered one of the most fundamental laws in physics. It shapes our understanding of processes ranging from chemical reactions to the behavior of stars and galaxies. The fixed amount of energy in the universe is a core scientific principle that enables much of physics and our understanding of the cosmos.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

There are some common myths and misconceptions when it comes to the idea of destroying or creating energy. Many people believe that energy can be destroyed, but this violates the first law of thermodynamics (Dave Olsen, 2022).

One common myth is that turning off electronic devices saves energy. However, the small surge of power needed to turn electronics back on uses more energy over time than leaving them in standby mode (Energy Conservation Myths, 2022).

Another misconception is that certain energy sources like oil and gas are not major contributors to climate change. However, research shows their greenhouse gas emissions play a significant role in global warming (Dave Olsen, 2022).

Some also believe renewable energy sources are too expensive and unreliable to replace fossil fuels. But costs of renewables have declined rapidly, and integration technologies have improved to manage intermittent supply issues (IEA, 2022).

In summary, many myths persist around destroying or creating energy, but the laws of thermodynamics definitively show that energy can only be transformed from one form to another.

Real World Examples

The laws of thermodynamics are applied in many real world examples of energy transformations. For instance, a car engine converts the chemical energy stored in gasoline into mechanical energy that powers the car (Teachers Pay Teachers, 2022). The combustion of gasoline is an exothermic reaction, so some energy is lost to the surroundings as heat, in line with the second law of thermodynamics. However, the overall energy of the system is conserved, as stated in the first law. Another example is the transformation of solar energy into electrical energy in solar panels. Photons from sunlight hit the solar cells, freeing electrons and generating an electric current while the overall energy is maintained (Teachers Pay Teachers, 2022). Per the second law, some solar energy is inevitably converted into heat and radiated into the surroundings. These examples demonstrate how the laws of thermodynamics govern real world energy transformations.


The laws of thermodynamics originated in the 19th century during the industrial revolution as scientists like Sadi Carnot, Rudolf Clausius, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) sought to understand how steam engines worked. Carnot determined that the maximal efficiency of heat engines was based on the temperature difference between the hot and cold reservoirs in the 1820s. Clausius later introduced the concept of entropy and stated the second law of thermodynamics in the 1850s. Thomson helped establish the idea of an absolute thermodynamic temperature scale in the 1840s and 1850s. The current mathematical formulations of the three laws of thermodynamics were consolidated towards the end of the 19th century with significant contributions from William Rankine, Max Planck, and others. The laws grew out of a desire to increase the efficiency and output of steam engines during the industrial revolution.

Future Research

There are still many areas of active research related to energy and thermodynamics. According to a recent article in Science Daily, physicists are re-examining the first law of thermodynamics in light of new understandings from quantum physics. The research team from West Virginia University provided new insight into how the first law of thermodynamics applies to quantum systems, suggesting the law may need modifying to account for quantum effects.

Other key areas being studied include applications of thermodynamics to complex systems like turbulence, climate, and biological processes, as noted in Popular Mechanics Advances in thermodynamics could lead to better predictions in weather and climate patterns. There is also ongoing work in extending thermodynamic concepts to explain the behavior of living organisms.

Overall, while the basic laws of thermodynamics are well-established, scientists continue probing their limits and exploring new applications as physics and other fields progress. The interdisciplinary nature of energy research ensures thermodynamics will remain an active area of study for the foreseeable future.


The laws of thermodynamics demonstrate that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one form to another. While energy transformations are happening continuously around us, the total amount of energy in the universe remains constant. This principle has profound implications for many scientific fields as well as philosophical ponderings about the origins and fate of the universe. Though commonly misunderstood, the laws of thermodynamics remain central pillars of modern physics. Understanding how energy transformations work provides insights into everything from biochemical reactions to fusion in stars. Ongoing research aims to unlock further mysteries about the fundamental nature of energy and how it shapes our universe.

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