how does chemical energy work

So, how does chemical energy work? Has this question ever left you confused? You are surely not alone!

Essentially, the energy contained in the bonds of chemical compounds is known as chemical energy.

Chemical energy is contained in many things besides alkaline batteries, such as coal and gasoline. In fact, even the food we eat has energy that can be converted into chemical form.

But, the question is how does chemical energy do work? 

Chemical energy is produced and put to use when the chemical bonds between molecules and atoms are broken. 

Understanding the Concept of Chemical Energy

Energy is defined as the capacity to perform labor by scientists, who typically divide it into two categories: potential or stored energy and kinetic energy, which comes from motion.

research conducted by scientist

Speaking of energy, chemical energy is among the six basic forms of energy, including:

  • Electrical energy
  • Thermal energy
  • Mechanical energy
  • Nuclear energy
  • Radiant energy

Other forms of energy do exist, but they are typically a combination of the six basic kinds.

Additionally, it is very much possible to combine these basic energy types to form another. 

 The Role of Chemical Energy

To exert effort, you need energy.  To clarify, this indicates that chemical potential energy is converted into usable energy during a chemical process.

bulb with a plant inside

Harnessing this unleashed energy allows us to do tasks both huge and small, from crooking our little finger to blazing stars.

What you need to understand is that molecular bonds of chemical compounds store chemical energy. And you need the energy to sever atomic bonds.

But at the same time, energy is released when new atomic bonds are formed.

Therefore, utilizing chemical energy necessitates an awareness of chemical reactions. These reactions take place during the decomposition and reformation of a substance. 

How Does Chemical Energy Work?

Every living creature on Earth requires chemical energy in order to function.

human hand with tree

The electrons, atoms, and molecular bonds that make up our bodies store chemical energy, which it extracts from food.

It then travels through a series of procedures and chemical reactions that ultimately allow humans to use its energy.

Fact:  Chemical reactions can be divided into single displacement, synthesis, combustion, decomposition, double displacement, and acid-base. 

Chemical Reactions Releasing Energy

In chemistry, exothermic reactions are those that produce heat or work.

Chemical bonds in exothermic reactions give off more energy than they take in. Thus, in endothermic reactions, temperature drops.

checking sun's temperature

In addition to combustion, energy can be generated by exothermic reactions such as:

  • Neutralization
  • Corrosion
  • Combustion
  • Reactions involving water

Simply striking a match is a great example of combustion, and a tarnishing teapot is a perfect example of a corrosion reaction. 

Similarly, a great example of neutralization is when you take acid blockers to relieve heartburn symptoms. 

Transformation of Potential Energy into Chemical Energy

To understand how chemical energy works, you will have to learn a bit about the first law of thermodynamics.

man written a word potential

The law states that destroying or creating energy is impossible, but you can only change its form. 

For any system, the transfer of energy takes place when:

  • A mass passes over a system’s control boundary
  • The energy is expended externally
  • The heat is transferred across the boundary

In other words, the molecules and atoms of one material are rearranged to form a new substance.

When this happens, the stored energy of the original substance is converted into a form of chemical energy.

Fact: Our body uses chemical energy stored in food and converts it into heat and mechanical energy. 

How Do You Extract Chemical Energy?’

Okay, so we are all familiar with propane – you might have used it when grilling food with friends and family.

Take the example of a molecule of propane to understand how chemical energy is extracted. This Molecule comprises three carbon atoms in the center and eight hydrogen atoms on either side. 

stove fire

When you light the grill and expose the propane to heat, the atoms in the fuel begin to move and vibrate.

Propane molecules can disassemble at high temperatures and high velocities if the atoms within them do not have somewhere to go.

During the process, eleven atoms of propane are converted into four water molecules and three CO2 molecules.

And the energy is released during the formation of these molecules, which makes propane a valuable source of chemical energy.

Fact: When more energy is released during the formation of new bonds than is required to break the bonds, the reaction is considered an exothermic reaction. 

What is Chemical Energy Used for in the Real World?

In our daily lives, we frequently make use of chemical energy.

city buildings and trees

When substances interact and transform at the molecular level, it releases energy that you can put to use in so many ways.

Let’s discover more about it. 

Chemical Energy and Power Generation

Across the globe, we generate both heat and electricity through the utilization of chemical energy.

posts of electric

We use fuel to generate steam, which in turn helps power turbines and generate electricity.

It can be achieved by burning:

  • Natural gas
  • Methane
  • Petroleum
  • Oil

The chemical energy from fossil fuels like methane and gas is crucial to the global economy. 

It is as simple as lighting the fuels to generate power. Because of this, liquid fuels undergo a chemical change immediately, releasing a great deal of energy in the process.

These fuels are also burned on smaller scales to provide heat for space heating.

Similarly, you can produce heat by burning:

  • Biodiesel
  • Biofuels
  • Biomass

Similarly, solar panels harness the sun’s rays by converting them into chemical energy that is then used to generate electricity.  

Chemical Energy in Transportation

Again, thanks to the process of extracting chemical energy out of fossil fuels, you see the entire transportation working in front of your eyes.

foggy road with a car

When you sit in your car and press the accelerator, you are actually using gasoline to produce mechanical energy

Using this stored potential energy, the car is set in motion, releasing kinetic energy. 

Chemical Energy and Food

Many people are now aware of the fact that the food they eat contains chemical energy that can be used later. 

It is the fuel your body needs to get around and carry out its many tasks.

cooked foods

Similarly, plants are able to grow thanks to the sun’s rays. Plant tissues absorb the light and use it to produce chemical energy.

When you cook that food, you actually release energy stored in its chemical bonds.

After ingestion, the chemical energy is further transformed by the digestive process into a form the body can use. 

Chemical Energy and Batteries

One of the most prominent uses of chemical energy is in the world of batteries. How does it all work in batteries?

It works on the principle that some elements’ atoms are good at giving up electrons, whereas others are always eager to accept them.

man fixing car's battery

To be more specific, an electric current is generated when two dissimilar substances are connected in a circuit and electrons move from one to the other.

The interesting thing is that chemical energy can be converted into electricity using a wide variety of materials.

That is why there are so many distinct battery specifications for consumer devices, such as:

  • Computers
  • Mobile phones
  • Cameras
  • Drones
  • … and so on!
Fact: Dry wood possesses chemical energy, which is released as light and heat when you burn it. 


wet bulb in blue background

How does chemical energy work? The truth is that energy cannot be destroyed or created but can be changed into different forms, which is the case with chemical energy.

It is essential to know that there is stored energy in atoms and when the bonds break, the chemical energy is released and used in different ways.