When you hear the words “chemical energy”, you most likely think of the chemical reactions that happen inside batteries, light bulbs and dynamite bombs. But chemical energy isn’t just illustrated in these examples; if you closer, you’ll see that it’s present in almost every single thing on earth.
For one thing, it can be seen in plants as they transform the sun’s energy into food and convert oxygen into carbon dioxide. It can also be observed in humans as they digest their food and turn it into sugars, proteins and other types of nutrients that nourish their body. Of course, it’s present in cars, trucks and other types of vehicles, wherein the internal combustion engine uses pistons, crankshafts and spark plugs to release the chemical energy within the gasoline.
But what exactly is chemical energy? By definition, it’s a type of energy that’s stored in the bonds of atoms that connect them with each other. These bonds release energy when they’re broken through exothermic reactions and provide a great source of power for both living and non-living things. The amount of energy that’s released depends on the type of chemical bonds that were present in the first place.
With these benefits in mind, it’s easy to see why chemical energy has garnered numerous proponents over the years. However, this type of power also presents several disadvantages, which is why it has gained many opponents who are against its use in the modern society.
List of Pros of Chemical Energy
1. Sources are largely available.
Basic chemistry teaches us that everything (including organic materials like plants and animals as well as inorganic ones like plastic) is made of atoms. So, if you look at the definition of chemical energy, you’ll realise that it’s present in almost every living and non-living thing. This makes it one of the most abundant fuel sources around the world because virtually any combustible item can be used to provide chemical energy.
Those who live in non-industrialized places, for example, depend on dry leaves, sticks, branches and other organic materials for their fuel. Those who are in urban and industrialized towns and cities, meanwhile, use crude oil, wood and coal to obtain power.
2. Allows energy to be stored.
Unlike other types of energy sources, chemical energy can easily be stored for later use and can also be easily accessed as needed. Just look at the modern lithium-ion batteries. These have made numerous technological innovations possible over the years because they allow people to store energy and access it even when they’re not within range of an electrical outlet. Because of batteries, it has been possible for scientists and other innovators to come up with cellphones, smartphones, laptops, tablets, wearable devices and other gadgets that have changed the world.
The ability of chemical energy to be effectively stored isn’t only present in modern batteries but can also be observed in organic materials. Plants, as mentioned above, create sugars from sunlight through photosynthesis. But plants don’t immediately consume their food; rather, they store some of it in their leaves so they can stay alive even during rainy days when the sun doesn’t come out. The same thing holds true for animals and humans, who store some of the calories they eat and ensure they can survive even during lean times.
3. Can be efficiently harnessed.
Chemical energy can be quickly harnessed as long as the right amount of oxygen is present and combustion is effectively achieved. So, to make the most of chemical energy, it’s important to have a system that supports optimal combustion. Vehicles, for example, need to have a well-designed car engine so the right amount of gasoline and air can mix and produce fuel.
List of Cons of Chemical Energy
1. Can be harmful to the environment.
Just like any other source of power, chemical energy also has its own disadvantages. One of the most well-known and most controversial cons is its negative effect on the environment.
More often than not, the combustion of organic and non-organic materials produces harmful by-products. In vehicle engines, for instance, the “perfect” combustion process produces carbon dioxide, water and nitrogen. However, this doesn’t really happen in the real world. The typical combustion process creates unburned or partially burned hydrocarbons, which reacts with sunlight and nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone and contributes to the presence of smog in urban areas. Smog has affected numerous places (most notably Beijing, Ulan Bator, New Delhi and Cairo) can greatly damage plants like wheat, peanuts, cotton and tomatoes. It has also affected numerous animal species, making it difficult for them to breathe and survive in their toxic environment.
The incomplete combustion process also produces carbon dioxide (also known as a greenhouse gas, which means it accumulates in the atmosphere, prevents heat from escaping the earth and contributes to climate change) as well as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
2. Paves the way to health problems.
Aside from harming the environment, the by-products of combustion can also damage human health. Smog, for example, can trigger asthma attacks even with just the slightest exposure. It can also lead to minor ailments like colds and eye irritation as well as major health issues like pneumonia, chest pains and even certain types of cancer. These effects are evident in Cairo, Egypt (wherein lung cancer and chronic respiratory illnesses are some of the most prevalent illnesses among residents) and in Dhaka, Bangladesh (wherein as many as 15,000 people die every year due to air pollution).
Carbon monoxide, another by-product of combustion, can also lead to a wide range of health problems. Short-term exposure to this gas can cause several symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, while long-term exposure can lead to neurological damage and even death.
Carbon monoxide can also reduce the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, making it extremely harmful to people with heart disease since their body already has a hard time delivering oxygenated blood to their heart. All of these are compounded by the fact that carbon monoxide is tasteless and odorless, making it difficult for people to detect its presence.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.