The Carnot Cycle

In the early 19th century, steam engines came to play an increasingly important role in industry and transportation. However, a systematic set of theories of the conversion of thermal energy to motive power by steam engines had not yet been developed. Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796-1832), a French military engineer, published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire in 1824. The book proposed a generalized theory of heat engines, as well as an idealized model of a thermodynamic system for a heat engine that is now known as the Carnot cycle. Carnot developed the foundation of the second law of thermodynamics, and is often described as the "Father of thermodynamics."




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The Carnot Cycle

The Carnot cycle consists of the following four processes:

A reversible isothermal gas expansion process. In this process, the ideal gas in the system absorbs \(q_{in}\) amount heat from a heat source at a high temperature \(T_{high}\), expands and does work on surroundings. A reversible adiabatic gas expansion process. In this process, the system is thermally insulated. The gas continues to expand and do work on surroundings, which causes the system to cool to a lower temperature, \(T_{low}\). A reversible isothermal gas compression process. In this process, surroundings do work to the gas at \(T_{low}\), and causes a loss of heat, \(q_{out}\). A reversible adiabatic gas compression process. In this process, the system is thermally insulated. Surroundings continue to do work to the gas, which causes the temperature to rise back to \(T_{high}\).
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