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Q & A: Heat energy and pollution

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Most recent answer: 05/16/2011
Q:
Does heat energy cause poullution? If so Why or Why not?
- Jackie (age 14)
Lincoln Middle School, Passica NJ
A:
Well, heat energy is considered a form of pollution only in some contexts. Heat energy is just the energy of molecules jiggling around (it has kinetic and potential components). Heat energy and pollution are associated in many ways but only in some cases does the heat energy "cause" the pollution.

Heat energy itself, when released into the environment in a system which is not equipped to handle it, is called "thermal pollution". Examples of this are the use of rivers and lakes to take up extra heat generated by industrial processes. Factories and electric power plants are often located by rivers and lakes so they can pump cold water in and release hot water back. The river or lake is then made warmer, and this can result in distress to plants and animals living in the rivers and lakes -- the balance of fish, algae, bacteria, and other organisms may be upset by the change in temperature.

The production of heat energy usually involves burning fuels, and this process creates pollution in various forms, depending on which fuels are used and how they are burned. Burning wood makes smoke, burning gasoline makes carbon and nitrogen oxides (and other compounds). Burning coal makes these and often sulfur oxides as well. Nuclear power plants generate heat for production of electricity, and they also produce wastes. Animals make heat energy and also wastes. The use of animal waste as fertilizer means that the definition of "pollution" also depends on context. Some animal waste very definitely qualifies as pollution.

Generation of heat energy by solar, wind, and hydroelectric means generates quite a lot less pollution (although the initial construction of the equipment may involve generating some pollution). Your toaster converts electrical energy into heat energy with practically no pollution, but the generation of the electrical energy in the first place probably involved some pollution somewhere.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: heat pollution

Q:
ok, so im wondering what heat pollution actaully is? because when i type it in on google it gives me some really long scienticif explantion that i have no clue what it's saying .. please help soon because i have a project due in two weeks. im also doign a video filmed by mysdelf and other group members. any ideas for that? thanks!!!!-nicole&her science group.
- Nicole (age 13)
Whitby Ontario Canada
A:
Heat pollution is really simple. It means when people dump too much heat into some part of the environment.

Here's some examples. Power plants make excess heat. It may get dumped into a nearby lake. That can heat up the lake too much, killing the native fish species and encouraging the growth of algae or something. Air conditioners dump heat outside. On a big-city street in the summer, that excess heat can make the street even hotter and less pleasant than it would be otherwise.

Mike W.

(published on 05/16/2011)

Follow-up on this answer.