Exothermic process

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In thermodynamics, an exothermic process (from Ancient Greek έξω (éxō) 'outward', and θερμικός (thermikós) 'thermal')[1] is a thermodynamic process or reaction that releases energy from the system to its surroundings,[2] usually in the form of heat, but also in a form of light (e.g. a spark, flame, or flash), electricity (e.g. a battery), or sound (e.g. explosion heard when burning hydrogen). The term exothermic was first coined by 19th-century French chemist Marcellin Berthelot.[3]

Explosions are some of the most violent exothermic reactions.

The opposite of an exothermic process is an endothermic process, one that absorbs energy, usually in the form of heat.[2] The concept is frequently applied in the physical sciences to chemical reactions where chemical bond energy is converted to thermal energy (heat).

Two types of chemical reactions


Exothermic and endothermic describe two types of chemical reactions or systems found in nature, as follows:



An exothermic reaction occurs when heat is released to the surroundings. According to the IUPAC, an exothermic reaction is "a reaction for which the overall standard enthalpy change ΔH⚬ is negative".[4] Some examples of exothermic process are fuel combustion, condensation and nuclear fission,[5] which is used in nuclear power plants to release large amounts of energy.[6]



In an endothermic reaction or system, energy is taken from the surroundings in the course of the reaction, usually driven by a favorable entropy increase in the system.[7] An example of an endothermic reaction is a first aid cold pack, in which the reaction of two chemicals, or dissolving of one in another, requires calories from the surroundings, and the reaction cools the pouch and surroundings by absorbing heat from them.[8]

Photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to convert carbon dioxide and water to sugar and oxygen, is an endothermic process: plants absorb radiant energy from the sun and use it in an endothermic, otherwise non-spontaneous process. The chemical energy stored can be freed by the inverse (spontaneous) process: combustion of sugar, which gives carbon dioxide, water and heat (radiant energy).[9]

Energy release


Exothermic refers to a transformation in which a closed system releases energy (heat) to the surroundings, expressed by


When the transformation occurs at constant pressure and without exchange of electrical energy, heat Q is equal to the enthalpy change, i.e.


while at constant volume, according to the first law of thermodynamics it equals internal energy (U) change, i.e.


In an adiabatic system (i.e. a system that does not exchange heat with the surroundings), an otherwise exothermic process results in an increase in temperature of the system.[11]

In exothermic chemical reactions, the heat that is released by the reaction takes the form of electromagnetic energy or kinetic energy of molecules.[12] The transition of electrons from one quantum energy level to another causes light to be released. This light is equivalent in energy to some of the stabilization energy of the energy for the chemical reaction, i.e. the bond energy. This light that is released can be absorbed by other molecules in solution to give rise to molecular translations and rotations, which gives rise to the classical understanding of heat. In an exothermic reaction, the activation energy (energy needed to start the reaction) is less than the energy that is subsequently released, so there is a net release of energy.[13]


An exothermic thermite reaction using iron(III) oxide. The sparks flying outwards are globules of molten iron trailing smoke in their wake.

Some examples of exothermic processes are:[14]

Implications for chemical reactions


Chemical exothermic reactions are generally more spontaneous than their counterparts, endothermic reactions.[16]

In a thermochemical reaction that is exothermic, the heat may be listed among the products of the reaction.

See also



  1. ^ "Gate for the Greek language" on-line dictionary Archived 2017-12-05 at the Wayback Machine. greek-language.gr
  2. ^ a b "17.3: Exothermic and Endothermic Processes". Chemistry LibreTexts. 2016-06-27. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  3. ^ Sutton, Mike (2007-03-01). "Chemistry for the common good". Chemistry World. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  4. ^ "IUPAC - exothermic reaction (E02269)". goldbook.iupac.org. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). doi:10.1351/goldbook.e02269. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  5. ^ Bashyal, Jyoti (2023-02-20). "Exothermic reactions with Important Examples". scienceinfo.com. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  6. ^ "Nuclear power plants - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)". www.eia.gov. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  7. ^ Oxtoby, David W.; Gillis, H. P.; Butler, Laurie J. (2016). Principles of modern chemistry (8 ed.). Andover: Cengage Learning. p. 617. ISBN 978-1-305-07911-3.
  8. ^ "The Cold Pack: A Chilly Example of an Endothermic Reaction - Let's Talk Science". letstalkscience.ca. 2020-06-01. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  9. ^ "Photosynthesis - What happens during photosynthesis? - OCR 21st Century - GCSE Combined Science Revision - OCR 21st Century". BBC Bitesize. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  10. ^ Oxtoby, D. W; Gillis, H.P., Butler, L. J. (2015).Principles of Modern Chemistry, Brooks Cole. p. 617. ISBN 978-1305079113
  11. ^ Perrot, Pierre (1998). A to Z of Thermodynamics. Oxford University Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0-19-856552-6.
  12. ^ "Potential Energy". Chemistry LibreTexts. 2013-10-02. Retrieved 2024-06-26.
  13. ^ "Chapter 2 - Carbon-based fuels". Heinemann Chemistry. Vol. 2 (6 ed.). Pearson. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9780655700098.
  14. ^ Exothermic – Endothermic examples Archived 2006-09-01 at the Wayback Machine. frostburg.edu
  15. ^ "T510: Exothermic Reaction – Thermite". 23 December 2015.
  16. ^ "Examples of Spontaneous Endothermic Reactions - Chemistry Examples". www.chemicool.com. Retrieved 2024-06-26.