Energy density is the amount of energy stored in a given system or region of space per unit volume. Colloquially it may also be used for energy per unit mass, though the accurate term for this is specific energy. Often only the useful or extractable energy is measured, which is to say that inaccessible energy (such as rest mass energy) is ignored. In cosmological and other general relativistic contexts, however, the energy densities considered are those that correspond to the elements of the stress–energy tensor and therefore do include mass energy as well as energy densities associated with the pressures described in the next paragraph.
|In SI base units||kg·m−1s−2|
|U = E/V|
Energy per unit volume has the same physical units as pressure, and in many circumstances is a synonym: for example, the energy density of a magnetic field may be expressed as (and behaves as) a physical pressure, and the energy required to compress a compressed gas a little more may be determined by multiplying the difference between the gas pressure and the external pressure by the change in volume. In short, pressure is a measure of the enthalpy per unit volume of a system. A pressure gradient has the potential to perform work on the surroundings by converting enthalpy to work until equilibrium is reached.
Introduction to energy densityEdit
There are many different types of energy stored in materials, and it takes a particular type of reaction to release each type of energy. In order of the typical magnitude of the energy released, these types of reactions are: nuclear, chemical, electrochemical, and electrical.
Nuclear reactions are used by stars and nuclear power plants, both of which derive energy from the binding energy of nuclei. Chemical reactions are used by animals to derive energy from food, and by automobiles to derive energy from gasoline. Liquid hydrocarbons (fuels such as gasoline, diesel and kerozene) are today the most dense way known to economically store and transport chemical energy at a very large scale (1 kg of diesel fuel burns with the oxygen contained in ~15 kg of air). Electrochemical reactions are used by most mobile devices such as laptop computers and mobile phones to release the energy from batteries.
Energy densities of common energy storage materialsEdit
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The following is a list of the thermal energy densities (that is to say: the amount of heat energy that can be extracted) of commonly used or well-known energy storage materials; it doesn't include uncommon or experimental materials. Note that this list does not consider the mass of reactants commonly available such as the oxygen required for combustion or the energy efficiency in use. An extended version of this table is found at Energy density#Extended Reference Table. Major reference = .
|Storage material||Energy type||Specific energy
|Deuterium (in Fusion reactor)||Nuclear fusion||87,900,000||15,822||Experimental|
|Uranium (in breeder)||Nuclear fission||80,620,000||1,539,842,000||Electric power plants|
|Thorium (in breeder)||Nuclear fission||79,420,000||929,214,000||Experimental|
|Plutonium 238||Nuclear decay||2,239,000||43,277,631||RTGs|
|Tritium||Nuclear decay||583,529||158||Experimental, thermonuclear weapons|
|Hydrogen (liquid)||Chemical||142||10||Rocket engines, Fuel Cells, H2 Storage/Transport|
|Hydrogen (compressed at 700 bar)||Chemical||142||9.17||Fuel Cells, Natural Gas Heating Supplement|
|Methane or Liquefied natural gas (compressed)||Chemical||55.5||22.2||Cooking, home heating, electric power plants|
|Diesel||Chemical||48||35.8||Automotive engines, electric power plants|
|LPG (including Propane / Butane)||Chemical||46.4||26||Cooking, home heating, automotive engines, lighter fluid|
|Gasoline (petrol)||Chemical||46.4||34.2||Automotive engines, electric power plants|
|Jet fuel (Kerosene)||Chemical||42.8||37.4||Aircraft engines|
|Fat (animal/vegetable)||Chemical||37||34||Human and animal nutrition|
|Coal (anthracite or bituminous)||Chemical||~30||~38||Electric power plants, home heating|
|Carbohydrates (including sugars)||Chemical||17||43||Human and animal nutrition|
|Protein||Chemical||16.8||~17||Human and animal nutrition|
|Wood||Chemical||16.2||13||Home heating, cooking|
|Lithium metal battery||Electrochemical||1.8||4.32||Portable electronic devices|
|Lithium-ion battery||Electrochemical||0.36–0.875||0.9–2.63||Automotive motors, portable electronic devices, RC vehicles|
|Flywheel||Mechanical||0.36–0.5||5.3||Power plants, Gyrobusses|
|Alkaline battery||Electrochemical||0.48||1.3||Portable electronic devices, flashlights|
|Nickel-metal hydride battery||Electrochemical||0.41||0.504–1.46||Portable electronic devices, flashlights|
|Lead-acid battery||Electrochemical||0.17||0.56||Automotive engine ignition|
|Supercapacitor (EDLC)||Electrical (electrostatic)||0.01–0.036||0.05–0.06||Electronic circuits|
|Electrolytic capacitor||Electrical (electrostatic)||0.00001–0.0002||0.00001–0.001||Electronic circuits|
|Storage device||Energy content
|Energy type||Typical mass
(width × height × depth in mm)
|Alkaline AA battery||9,360||Electrochemical||24||14.2 × 50|
|Alkaline C battery||34,416||Electrochemical||65||26 × 46|
|NiMH AA battery||9,072||Electrochemical||26||14.2 × 50|
|NiMH C battery||19,440||Electrochemical||82||26 × 46|
|Lithium-ion 18650 battery||28,800–46,800||Electrochemical||44–49||18 × 65|
|Potato Chip||41,900||Chemical||1.89||60 × 40 × 1|
|Ham and Cheese Sandwich||1,470,000||Chemical||145||100 × 100 × 28|
Energy density in energy storage and in fuelEdit
In energy storage applications the energy density relates the mass of an energy store to the volume of the storage facility, e.g. the fuel tank. The higher the energy density of the fuel, the more energy may be stored or transported for the same amount of volume. The energy density of a fuel per unit mass is called the specific energy of that fuel. In general an engine using that fuel will generate less kinetic energy due to inefficiencies and thermodynamic considerations—hence the specific fuel consumption of an engine will always be greater than its rate of production of the kinetic energy of motion.
Nuclear energy sourcesEdit
The greatest energy source by far is mass itself. This energy, E = mc2, where m = ρV, ρ is the mass per unit volume, V is the volume of the mass itself and c is the speed of light. This energy, however, can be released only by the processes of nuclear fission (0.1%), nuclear fusion (1%), or the annihilation of some or all of the matter in the volume V by matter-antimatter collisions (100%). Nuclear reactions cannot be realized by chemical reactions such as combustion. Although greater matter densities can be achieved, the density of a neutron star would approximate the most dense system capable of matter-antimatter annihilation possible. A black hole, although denser than a neutron star, does not have an equivalent anti-particle form, but would offer the same 100% conversion rate of mass to energy in the form of Hawking radiation. In the case of relatively small black holes (smaller than astronomical objects) the power output would be tremendous.
The highest density sources of energy aside from antimatter are fusion and fission. Fusion includes energy from the sun which will be available for billions of years (in the form of sunlight) but so far (2018), sustained fusion power production continues to be elusive.
Power from fission of uranium and thorium in nuclear power plants will be available for many decades or even centuries because of the plentiful supply of the elements on earth, though the full potential of this source can only be realised through breeder reactors, which are, apart from the BN-600 reactor, not yet used commercially. Coal, gas, and petroleum are the current primary energy sources in the U.S. but have a much lower energy density. Burning local biomass fuels supplies household energy needs (cooking fires, oil lamps, etc.) worldwide.
Thermal power of nuclear fission reactorsEdit
The density of thermal energy contained in the core of a light water reactor (PWR or BWR) of typically 1 GWe (1 000 MW electrical corresponding to ~3 000 MW thermal) is in the range of 10 to 100 MW of thermal energy per cubic meter of cooling water depending on the location considered in the system (the core itself (~30 m3), the reactor pressure vessel (~50 m3), or the whole primary circuit (~300 m3)). This represents a considerable density of energy which requires under all circumstances a continuous water flow at high velocity in order to be able to remove the heat from the core, even after an emergency shutdown of the reactor. The incapacity to cool the cores of three boiling water reactors (BWR) at Fukushima in 2011 after the tsunami and the resulting loss of the external electrical power and of the cold source was the cause of the meltdown of the three cores in only a few hours, even though the three reactors were correctly shut down just after the Tōhoku earthquake. This extremely high power density distinguishes nuclear power plants (NPP's) from any thermal power plants (burning coal, fuel or gas) or any chemical plants and explains the large redundancy required to permanently control the neutron reactivity and to remove the residual heat from the core of NPP's.
Energy density differs from energy conversion efficiency (net output per input) or embodied energy (the energy output costs to provide, as harvesting, refining, distributing, and dealing with pollution all use energy). Large scale, intensive energy use impacts and is impacted by climate, waste storage, and environmental consequences.
No single energy storage method boasts the best in specific power, specific energy, and energy density. Peukert's Law describes how the amount of useful energy that can be obtained (for a lead-acid cell) depends on how quickly we pull it out. To maximize both specific energy and energy density, one can compute the specific energy density of a substance by multiplying the two values together, where the higher the number, the better the substance is at storing energy efficiently.
- Note: Some values may not be precise because of isomers or other irregularities. See Heating value for a comprehensive table of specific energies of important fuels.
- Note: Also it is important to realise that generally the density values for chemical fuels do not include the weight of oxygen required for combustion. This is typically two oxygen atoms per carbon atom, and one per two hydrogen atoms. The atomic weight of carbon and oxygen are similar, while hydrogen is much lighter than oxygen. Figures are presented this way for those fuels where in practice air would only be drawn in locally to the burner. This explains the apparently lower energy density of materials that already include their own oxidiser (such as gunpowder and TNT), where the mass of the oxidiser in effect adds dead weight, and absorbs some of the energy of combustion to dissociate and liberate oxygen to continue the reaction. This also explains some apparent anomalies, such as the energy density of a sandwich appearing to be higher than that of a stick of dynamite.
Energy densities ignoring external componentsEdit
This table lists energy densities of systems that require external components, such as oxidisers or a heat sink or source. These figures do not take into account the mass and volume of the required components as they are assumed to be freely available and present in the atmosphere. Such systems cannot be compared with self-contained systems. These values may not be computed at the same reference conditions.
|Storage type||Specific energy
|Peak recovery efficiency %||Practical recovery efficiency %|
|Antimatter||89,875,517,874||Depends on the density of the antimatter's form||24,965,421,631,578||Depends on the density of the antimatter's form||100|
|Plutonium-239||83,610,000 (thermal energy)
31,000,000 (electrical energy)
|Depends on crystallographic phase||23,222,915,000 (thermal energy)
8,700,000,000 (electrical energy)
|Depends on crystallographic phase|
|Hydrogen, liquid||141.86 (HHV)
|Hydrogen, at 690 bar and 15°C||141.86 (HHV)
|Hydrogen, gas||141.86 (HHV)
|Methane (1.013 bar, 15 °C)||55.6||0.0378[a]||15,444.5||10.5|
|LNG (NG at −160 °C)||53.6||22.2[a]||14,888.9||6,166.7|
|CNG (NG compressed to 250 bar/~3,600 psi)||53.6||9[a]||14,888.9||2,500.0|
|Crude oil (according to the definition of ton of oil equivalent)||46.3||37[a]||12,861.1||10,277.8|
|Residential heating oil||46.2||37.3[a]||12,833.3||10,361.1|
|Gasohol E10 (10% ethanol 90% gasoline by volume)||43.54||33.18[a]||12,094.5||9,216.7|
|Jet A aviation fuel/kerosene||42.8||33[a]||11,888.9||9,166.7|
|Biodiesel oil (vegetable oil)||42.20||33[a]||11,722.2||9,166.7|
|DMF (2,5-dimethylfuran)[clarification needed]||42||37.8||11,666.7||10,500.0|
|Body fat metabolism||38||35[a]||10,555.6||9,722.2||22|
|Gasohol E85 (85% ethanol 15% gasoline by volume)||33.1||25.65||9,194.5||7,125.0|
|PET plastic||23.5 (impure)||6,527.8|
|Hydrazine (combusted to N2+H2O)||19.5||19.3||5,416.7||5,361.1|
|Liquid ammonia (combusted to N2+H2O)||18.6||11.5||5,166.7||3,194.5|
|PVC plastic (improper combustion toxic)[clarification needed]||18.0||25.2||5,000.0||7,000.0|
|Sugars, carbohydrates, and protein metabolism||17||26.2 (dextrose)||4,722.2||7,277.8||22|
|Dry cow dung and camel dung||15.5||4,305.6|
|Coal, lignite||10–20||2,777.8–5,555.6|
|Sodium (burned to wet sodium hydroxide)||13.3||12.8||3,694.5||3,555.6|
|Sulfur (burned to sulfur dioxide)||9.23||19.11||2,563.9||5,308.3|
|Sodium (burned to dry sodium oxide)||9.1||8.8||2,527.8||2,444.5|
|Battery, lithium-air rechargeable||9.0||2,500.0|
|Iron (burned to iron(III) oxide)||5.2||40.68||1,444.5||11,300.0|
|Teflon plastic (combustion toxic, but flame retardant)||5.1||11.2||1,416.7||3,111.1|
|Iron (burned to iron(II) oxide)||4.9||38.2||1,361.1||10,611.1|
|Liquid nitrogen[clarification needed]||0.77||0.62||213.9||172.2|
|Compressed air at 300 bar (potential energy)||0.5||0.2||138.9||55.6||>50|
|Latent heat of fusion of ice (thermal)||0.335||0.335||93.1||93.1|
|Water at 100 m dam height (potential energy)||0.001||0.001||0.278||0.278||95||85–90|
|Storage type||Energy density by mass (MJ/kg)||Energy density by volume (MJ/L)||Specific energy (Wh/kg)||Energy density (Wh/L)||Peak recovery efficiency %||Practical recovery efficiency %|
- Technically the actual value of the fuel alone is half the number indicated, because in order to burn the fuel must be mixed with 2 parts oxygen to 1 part fuel. In an oxygen-free environment the actual value is 0 as the fuel will not burn at all.
Energy density of electric and magnetic fieldsEdit
where E is the electric field and B is the magnetic field. The solution will be (in SI units) in Joules per cubic metre. In the context of magnetohydrodynamics, the physics of conductive fluids, the magnetic energy density behaves like an additional pressure that adds to the gas pressure of a plasma.
In normal (linear and nondispersive) substances, the energy density (in SI units) is
In the case of absence of magnetic fields, by exploting Fröhlich's relationships it is also possible to extend these equations to anisotropy and nonlinearity dielectrics, as well as to calculate the correlated Helmholtz free energy and entropy densities.
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