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Thermodynamics: Thermal Energy Reservoirs

When dealing with the second law of thermodynamics you must describe a thermal reservoir in your problem; one of each type. There are two types of thermal reservoirs; a source and a sink. A source is a thermal reservoir that provides thermal energy to your process, while a sink is a thermal reservoir that removes heat from your process.

Heat Sink and Heat Source

For something to be considered a thermal reservoir its properties must remain constant. Objects that are large such as a lake, the ocean, or the atmosphere can be considered thermal reservoirs due to their size. However, size does not dictate whether something is a thermal reservoir. For example, furnaces or boilers can also be considered thermal reservoirs a long as their properties are regulated.

Finally, as a side note, since rivers, lakes, and the ocean are common thermal sinks for plants that have waste energy thermal pollution can become an issue. Thermal pollution is caused by energy being dumped into the thermal sink to fast so that the energy cannot disperse fast enough causing the temperature to rise. The rising temperature can hurt or kill marine life, which means this must be considered when designing a thermodynamic process for a plant, so that it will comply with environmental laws.

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