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TYPES OF THERMODYNAMIC

PROCESS
SUMMARY
When examining thermodynamic processes some simplifying
assumptions may be applied to help describe and analyse a
given system. These simplifications can be viewed as 'ideal'
thermodynamic processes and include adiabatic, isenthalpic,
isentropic, isobaric, isochoric, isothermal, isentropic,
polytropic and reversible processes. This article provides a
brief overview of each process type and suitability to a given
thermodynamic system.

DEFINITIONS
CC
nn
hh

: Constant

kk

: Ratio of specific heats (isentropic exponent)

mm
PP
QQ
ss
TT

: Mass flow

: Polytropic index
: Enthalpy

: Pressure
: Heat flow
: Entropy
: Temperature

Cp/CvCp/Cv

VV

: Volume
: Efficiency

Subscripts:

aa
ss

Actual or adiabatic process

Isentropic process

11

Initial state

22

Final state

SUMMARY OF PROCESS TYPES


Each type of thermodynamic process presented in this article
has the simplifying characteristic that one or more property is
held constant while the process takes place. The table below
summarises the constant properties for each type of
thermodynamic process.
Process

Properties Held Constant

Adiabatic

Heat Energy

Isenthalpic

Enthalpy

Isentropic

Entropy, Equilibrium, Heat Energy

Isobaric

Pressure

Process

Properties Held Constant

Isochoric

Volume

Isothermal

Temperature

Isotropic

Direction

Polytropic

PVn=CPVn=C

Reversible

Entropy, Equilibrium

THERMODYNAMIC PROCESS
DESCRIPTIONS
Adiabatic
An adiabatic process is one in which no heat or mass is
transferred
between
the
system
and
its
surroundings (m=0, Q=0)(m=0, Q=0). In practice
this assumption is most often used for rapidly acting systems
(i.e. the thermodynamic process occurs in a short period) or as
a method for obtaining conservative results. For example:

Analysing the stroke of a piston where heat transfer


outside of the system can be minimal due to the short
period of time analysed.
Analysis of a combustion reaction using the adiabatic
assumption to give an upper limit (conservative) estimate
of the flame temperature (referred to as the adiabatic
flame temperature).

Isenthalpic
An isenthalpic process is one in which there is no transfer of
heat energy to or from the surroundings as if the system were
surrounded by a perfect insulator (h=0)(h=0). Essentially
and isenthalpic system is an adiabatic system that is
irreversible and extracts no work.
The isenthalpic assumption is typically applied to determine
the maximum temperature change in a system with changes in
pressure. For example:
Calculating the temperature of a gas after it passed
through a safety relief valve to ensure downstream
components are suitably rated for the discharge
temperature.

Isentropic

An isentropic process is one in which entropy remains


constant (s=0)(s=0). Since no energy is dissipated as
heat an isentropic process is both adiabatic and reversible.
Steady state fluid systems are often best represented as
adiabatic, but to give an estimation of the efficiency of the
process the isentropic performance of a system is often related
to the adiabatic or actual performance. This is referred to as
the adiabatic or isentropic efficiency:
For systems where pressure decreases, such as turbines and
nozzles:

=h1h2ah1h2s=h1h2ah1h2s
For systems where pressure increases, such as pumps and
compressors:

=h2sh1h2ah1=h2sh1h2ah1

Isobaric
An isobaric process is one in which the pressure is held
constant (P=0)(P=0). Assuming that the quantity of gas
in an isobaric process remains constant the work done by the
system is directly promotional to the change in volume or
temperature of the system.

The ratio of heat capacity of a gas in an isobaric system with


the heat capacity of the gas in an isochoric system makes up
the ratio of specific heats for gases k=Cp/Cvk=Cp/Cv.

Isochoric
An isochoric system is one in which volume is held
constant (V=0)(V=0). Isochoric processes can also be
referred to as isometric or isovolumetric. For Example:
In calorimetry the energy of a reaction may be measured
in a "bomb calorimeter". This device does not change
volume during the reaction so that the temperature change
can be measured as a single variable, and used to
calculate the energy released.

Isothermal
An isothermal process is one in which there is no temperature
change (T=0)(T=0). There may be energy flow into and
out of the system, however only the amount required to keep
the temperature of the system constant. For Example:
Phase changes - melting solids and boiling liquids of pure
substances requires substantially energy transfer, but does
not change temperature.

Isotropic
An isotropic system is not strictly a thermodynamics system,
however it may easily be confused for one from the name.
Isotropic systems are uniform regardless of direction. For
example:
Radiation may be isotropic when the the observed
intensity is the same in all directions from the source.
A fluid may be called isotropic if the relationships
between stress and rate of strain is the same in all
directions.

Polytropic
A polytropic fluid system follows the relationship:

PVn=CPVn=C
From this relationship we can arrive at relationships for several
other types of thermodynamic process:
When n=0n=0, the process is isobaric
When n=1n=1, the process is isothermal
When n=kn=k, the process is isentropic
When n=n=, the process is isochoric

Reversible
A reversible process is one which is performed as if it were
always at equilibrium, and without the production on entropy.
This system is purely hypothetical since entropy is increased
by any process occurring in a finite time.
A reversible process is always at equilibrium as the process
progresses and thus represents the maximum efficiency that is
possible in the conversion between work and energy for the
system.