# How Do You Calculate The Rate Of Thermal Energy?

Thermal energy refers to the total kinetic energy of molecules within a substance. This energy makes atoms and molecules vibrate faster as temperature increases. The rate of thermal energy transfer describes how quickly or slowly thermal energy moves from one object or system to another as a result of temperature differences.

There are three main mechanisms of thermal energy transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation. The rate of each type of heat transfer depends on properties of the materials involved such as thermal conductivity, fluid motion, and emission/absorption of electromagnetic radiation.

Calculating the rate of thermal energy transfer is important in fields like engineering, physics, chemistry, and climatology. Quantifying these heat transfer rates allows us to predict temperatures, improve designs, and gain insights into natural processes.

## Heat vs. Temperature

Heat and temperature are often used interchangeably in everyday language, but they are distinct scientific concepts. Heat refers to the total thermal energy of a system or object, while temperature measures the average kinetic energy of molecules.

Heat, or thermal energy, is the total energy of microscopic motions of particles in a substance. It involves the kinetic energy of atoms and molecules and their potential interactions. The more thermal energy a material has, the more its particles vibrate and move. Heat is an extensive property – it scales with the size and amount of material.

Temperature is an intensive property that measures the average kinetic energy of particles in matter. As particles vibrate more rapidly, temperature increases. Temperature does not depend on the amount of material; two cups of water at 20°C have the same average kinetic energy per molecule. Temperature is measured in units like degrees Celsius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin.

While related, heat and temperature are not equivalent. Adding heat energy to a substance increases its temperature, but temperature change depends on mass, chemical structure, phase transitions, and other factors. The key distinction is that heat is total kinetic and potential energy, while temperature reflects the average energy on a microscopic scale.

## Conduction

Conduction is the transfer of heat energy through direct contact between materials. It occurs when molecules in a warmer part of an object collide with molecules in a cooler part, transferring kinetic energy. Metals are good conductors as their free electrons can transfer thermal energy rapidly. Other good conductors are nonmetals like diamond. Insulators like wood or plastic have far fewer free electrons, slowing heat transfer.

An example of conduction is touching a hot stove – the heat quickly transfers from the burner through the metal pan to your hand. Conduction also explains why a metal spoon in hot soup conducts heat to your hand holding the spoon. The greater the temperature difference between two objects in contact, the faster conduction occurs.

## Convection

Convection is the transfer of thermal energy by the movement of fluids. It occurs when hot, less dense material rises while cooler denser material sinks. The hot material then transfers thermal energy to its surroundings as it cools and the cooler material absorbs thermal energy as it warms. Convection requires a fluid medium and gravity. It occurs in liquids like water and gases like air.

Some examples of convection include:

• Hot air rising from a fire or heater, transferring thermal energy from the source to the surroundings.
• Circulation of water in the oceans and atmosphere, transporting thermal energy around the planet.
• Natural convection in cooking, where hot air rises off food, transferring thermal energy upward.
• Forced convection in appliances like ovens, where fans and blowers deliberately move hot air.
• Convection currents that transfer heat from the Earth’s core to the surface, creating plate tectonics.

Convection plays a major role in thermal energy transfer and fluid dynamics in nature and engineered systems.

Radiation refers to thermal energy that is transferred via electromagnetic waves, rather than by direct particle interaction. All objects emit thermal radiation continuously based on their temperature. The hotter an object is, the more thermal radiation it emits at a higher intensity and shorter wavelength.

Common examples of thermal radiation include:

• The heat that we feel from the sun’s rays
• The heat that we feel from a fire or heater without having direct contact
• The infrared radiation emitted by warm objects, which can be detected by night vision goggles or thermal imaging cameras
• The microwave radiation emitted by excited water molecules, which cooks food in a microwave oven
• The thermal radiation emitted by Earth that becomes trapped in the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect

Unlike conduction or convection, thermal radiation does not require direct contact or the presence of matter to transfer heat. Radiation can travel long distances through empty space. The amount of thermal radiation emitted depends on properties like the object’s temperature and emissivity.

## Measuring Temperature Change

There are several tools and instruments commonly used to measure temperature change in thermal physics. The most basic option is a thermometer, which utilizes the expansion of liquids or metals to quantitatively measure temperature. Common types of thermometers include mercury, alcohol, and bimetal strip thermometers. Digital thermometers containing thermistors or thermocouples provide more precise temperature measurements. Infrared thermal cameras allow temperature distribution across an object to be visualized and quantified. Calorimeters are instruments designed to measure the amount of heat absorbed or released during a physical or chemical change. Simple calorimeters like coffee cup calorimeters can be used in classroom experiments, while more sophisticated models like bomb calorimeters are used in laboratories. Devices called thermopiles containing junctions of dissimilar metals can also be used to measure temperature differences and heat flux. Overall, technology provides many options for quantitatively tracking temperature changes in various materials and environments.

## Calculating Conduction Rate

The conduction rate formula is used to calculate the rate of heat transfer by conduction between two objects or surfaces. Conduction occurs when heat is transferred through direct contact between materials, without any motion of the material itself.

The rate of conductive heat transfer is directly proportional to the temperature difference between the two surfaces and the thermal conductivity of the materials, and inversely proportional to the distance between the surfaces. The basic equation is:

Q/t = kA(ΔT)/d

Where:

• Q is the amount of heat transferred (in Joules)
• t is the time duration (in seconds)
• k is the thermal conductivity of the material (in W/m∙K)
• A is the contact surface area between the objects (in m2)
• ΔT is the temperature difference between the objects (in Kelvin)
• d is the distance between the objects (in meters)

This formula allows you to calculate the rate of heat transfer in watts (J/s) between two surfaces in contact, based on their measured properties and temperature difference. The higher the temperature difference and conductivity, and the larger the contact area, the greater the conduction rate will be.

## Calculating Convection Rate

Convection is the transfer of heat by the movement of fluids. The convection rate depends on the temperature difference between the surface and the fluid, the surface area, and the heat transfer coefficient. The formula for calculating convection heat transfer rate is:

Qconv = h A ΔT

Where:

• Qconv = convective heat transfer rate (W)
• h = convection heat transfer coefficient (W/m2.K)
• A = surface area of heat transfer (m2)
• ΔT = temperature difference between surface and fluid (K or °C)

The convective heat transfer coefficient (h) depends on the fluid properties, surface geometry, flow conditions, and temperature difference. Typical values for gases range from 5 to 25 W/m2.K, while for liquids values range from 50 to 1000 W/m2.K. These values must often be estimated or found experimentally.

By determining the convection coefficient, temperature difference, and surface area, the convection heat transfer rate can be calculated using this relatively simple formula.

The rate of radiant heat transfer between two surfaces depends on the emissivity of each surface, the area of the surfaces, and the difference in temperature between them. The radiation rate formula is:

Q = εσA(Th^4 – Tc^4)

Where:

• Q is the radiation heat transfer rate in watts (W)
• ε is the emissivity of the surface (ranges from 0 to 1)
• σ is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, 5.67 x 10-8 W/m2K4
• A is the area of the surface in m2
• Th is the temperature of the hotter surface in Kelvin (K)
• Tc is the temperature of the colder surface in Kelvin (K)

To calculate the radiation rate, you need to know the emissivity, area, and temperatures of the surfaces exchanging heat. The emissivity depends on the material and surface finish. The area can be directly measured. And temperatures must be converted to absolute temperature (Kelvin). With this information, the formula can be used to find the rate of radiative heat transfer.

## Examples and Applications

Here are some examples of calculating real-world thermal energy transfer rates:

### Conduction Example

Let’s say we want to calculate the conduction heat transfer rate through a 5 cm thick steel plate that has temperatures of 100°C on one side and 25°C on the other side. The plate has an area of 0.5 m^2. We would use the conduction formula:

q = kA(ΔT/Δx)

Where q is the heat transfer rate in W or J/s, k is the thermal conductivity of steel (around 80 W/m·K), A is the area of 0.5 m^2, ΔT is the temperature difference of 75°C, and Δx is the thickness of 0.05 m.

Plugging this into the equation:
q = 80 * 0.5 * (75/0.05) = 60,000 W = 60 kW

So the conduction heat transfer rate through the steel plate is 60 kW.

### Convection Example

As an example of calculating convection, let’s say we want to find the convection coefficient on a 1 m tall vertical plate immersed in water at 45°C, with the plate temperature being 85°C. Using correlations for natural convection, the Nusselt number (Nu) is around 8. The formula relating Nu, convection coefficient (h), and conductivity (k) is:

Nu = hL/k

Where L is the characteristic length of 1 m. The thermal conductivity of water is about 0.6 W/m·K. Plugging this in:

8 = h * 1 / 0.6

h = 4.8 W/m^2·K

So the convection coefficient is approximately 4.8 W/m^2·K for this scenario.