Carnot Efficiency

The efficiency of the Carnot cycle

A ideal reversible cycle where heat is taken in at a constant upper temperature and rejected at a constant lower temperature was suggested by Sadi Carnot. The theoretically most efficient heat engine cycle, the Carnot cycle, consists of

  • two isothermal processes and
  • two adiabatic processes

Since the second law of thermodynamics states that not all supplied heat in a heat engine can be used to do work, the Carnot efficiency limits the fraction of heat that can be used.

The Carnot efficiency can be expressed as

μC = (Ti - To) / Ti         (1)

where

μC = efficiency of the Carnot cycle

Ti = temperature at the engine inlet (K)

To = temperature at engine exhaust (K)

The wider the range of temperature, the more efficient becomes the cycle. The lowest temperature is limited by the temperature of the sink of heat - if it is the atmosphere or the ocean, river or whatever available. Normally the lowest temperature available is in the range 10 - 20 oC. The maximum temperature is limited by the metallurgical strength of available materials.  

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