Energy - Applications of The Concept of Energy - Energy and Life

Energy and Life

Any living organism relies on an external source of energy—radiation from the Sun in the case of green plants; chemical energy in some form in the case of animals—to be able to grow and reproduce. The daily 1500–2000 Calories (6–8 MJ) recommended for a human adult are taken as a combination of oxygen and food molecules, the latter mostly carbohydrates and fats, of which glucose (C6H12O6) and stearin (C57H110O6) are convenient examples. The food molecules are oxidised to carbon dioxide and water in the mitochondria

C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O
C57H110O6 + 81.5O2 → 57CO2 + 55H2O

and some of the energy is used to convert ADP into ATP

ADP + HPO42− → ATP + H2O

The rest of the chemical energy in the carbohydrate or fat is converted into heat: the ATP is used as a sort of "energy currency", and some of the chemical energy it contains when split and reacted with water, is used for other metabolism (at each stage of a metabolic pathway, some chemical energy is converted into heat). Only a tiny fraction of the original chemical energy is used for work:

gain in kinetic energy of a sprinter during a 100 m race: 4 kJ
gain in gravitational potential energy of a 150 kg weight lifted through 2 metres: 3kJ
Daily food intake of a normal adult: 6–8 MJ

It would appear that living organisms are remarkably inefficient (in the physical sense) in their use of the energy they receive (chemical energy or radiation), and it is true that most real machines manage higher efficiencies. In growing organisms the energy that is converted to heat serves a vital purpose, as it allows the organism tissue to be highly ordered with regard to the molecules it is built from. The second law of thermodynamics states that energy (and matter) tends to become more evenly spread out across the universe: to concentrate energy (or matter) in one specific place, it is necessary to spread out a greater amount of energy (as heat) across the remainder of the universe ("the surroundings"). Simpler organisms can achieve higher energy efficiencies than more complex ones, but the complex organisms can occupy ecological niches that are not available to their simpler brethren. The conversion of a portion of the chemical energy to heat at each step in a metabolic pathway is the physical reason behind the pyramid of biomass observed in ecology: to take just the first step in the food chain, of the estimated 124.7 Pg/a of carbon that is fixed by photosynthesis, 64.3 Pg/a (52%) are used for the metabolism of green plants, i.e. reconverted into carbon dioxide and heat.

Read more about this topic:  Energy, Applications of The Concept of Energy

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