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What Is Chemical Energy?

By Victoria Blackburn
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Scientifically, energy is defined as the ability to do work. While there are many forms of energy, they can be grouped into two categories: potential energy, or stored energy; and kinetic energy, or energy of motion. Chemical energy is a form of potential energy and it is possessed by things such as food, fuels and batteries.

Within each category of energy, there are many different forms of energy. Chemical energy is one form of potential energy, along with mechanical energy, gravitational energy, nuclear energy and electrical energy. All of these forms of energy are stored within an object and are converted to forms of kinetic energy when a force or change is applied. The different forms of kinetic energy are radiant energy, which includes light, x-rays and radio waves, heat, motion and sound.

As stated by the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be converted from one form to another. During chemical reactions, molecules can be created or destroyed. If a product is created, the chemical energy is stored in the bonds that make up the molecules. If something is broken down, the chemical energy is released, usually as heat. If a reaction releases energy, it is called exothermic, and if it absorbs energy, it is called endothermic.

One example of chemical energy is that found in the food that we eat. Energy is stored in the bonds of the molecules that make up food. When we eat the food, the large molecules are broken down into smaller molecules that can be used by the cells of the body. In a way, the food we eat serves as our daily power source. This point of view highlights the value of quality nutrition. The process of breaking down and using the food by our cells is called respiration. This is the same process that gives us the energy to perform tasks, work for our next meal, and repeat the process. During respiration, the chemical energy is converted to heat, kinetic energy, and other forms of chemical energy, like that stored in the fat cells in our body. To achieve one's weight loss goals, they should consume less and move more so the body starts tapping the reserves in fat cells. This energy makes staying active possible in humans.

Food is just one example of a fuel — it is how animals, including humans, fuel their bodies. Quality food means quality fuel for your day to day activities. Other forms of fuel include wood and chemicals, such as petroleum. When wood is burned, the chemical energy within the cells of the wood break and heat is released. In the engine of a car or truck, the energy in the gasoline is converted to heat and motion, to make the car move.

Kinetic energy can also be converted to potential energy. During the process of photosynthesis carried out by plants, radiant energy, or the light from the sun, is converted into chemical energy, which is stored within the plant. When animals eat the plants, the reverse reaction takes place. The bonds are broken, which releases the stored chemical energy for the animals to use.

AllTheScience is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon336335 — On May 28, 2013

I want to know how energy is released from chocolate.

By anon303774 — On Nov 16, 2012

What are some pros and cons of chemical energy?

By anon302975 — On Nov 12, 2012

Stored chemical energy is also found in food that animals and humans eat.

By anon269136 — On May 16, 2012

Wouldn't it be a good idea to harness some food in jars?

By anon263447 — On Apr 24, 2012

What are some benefits we humans have on chemical energy?

By anon233387 — On Dec 06, 2011

chemical energy can be used by making fireworks.

By anon167895 — On Apr 14, 2011

I wished it said more about it. Like what's the price of Chemical Energy, the uses of it and how is it developing in our world's life movement! Overall, this is a great site! Its a shame i didn't find what i was looking for.

By anon163965 — On Mar 29, 2011

is chemical energy renewable?

By anon147601 — On Jan 29, 2011

Thank-you for the wise information. You really are wisely geeky.

By anon134296 — On Dec 14, 2010

Reading some of these anonymous comments, one would think the people who made this site are posing as teens who use this site.

Pro tip: Cool and awesome are not the top two adjectives teens would use to describe a site that merely provides information. These words are generally dished out to sites with visual stimulus (i.e. games and videos.)

That being said, it really did help me understand concepts better than wikipedia.

By anon90794 — On Jun 18, 2010

This is a super website if you need info for projects! It is straight forward and kids can understand it!

By anon77696 — On Apr 15, 2010

this site is awesome for help with science projects.

By anon68128 — On Mar 01, 2010

good. great. superb site. -gojoto

By anon68127 — On Mar 01, 2010

this site is very cool. --varsha

By mendocino — On Feb 26, 2010

As stated in the article, using food to produce energy is one form of chemical energy.

By this process our bodies break down the "fuel" and create energy that is used for movement or breathing or all the other bodily actions .

But not all of it is turned into useful energy, actually only a small percentage is used. The rest is wasted in heat form.

Wouldn't it be a good idea to harness some of that heat and power something lets say a cell phone?

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