Types of Thermodynamic Equilibrium
Thermodynamic Equilibrium In general change of state of a thermodynamic system results from existence of gradients of various types within or across its boundary. Thus a gradient of pressure results in momentum or convective transport of mass. Temperature gradients result in heat transfer, while a gradient of concentration (more exactly, of chemical potential, as we shall see later) promotes diffusive mass transfer. Thus, as long as internal or cross-boundary gradients of any form as above exist with respect to a thermodynamic system it will undergo change of state in time. The result of all such changes is to annul the gradient that in the first place causes the changes. This process will continue till all types of gradients are nullified. In the ultimate limit one may then conceive of a state where all gradients (external or internal) are non-existent and the system exhibits no further changes. Under such a limiting condition, the system is said to be in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium. For a system to be thermodynamic equilibrium, it thus needs to also satisfy the criteria for mechanical, thermal and chemical equilibrium.
Types of Thermodynamic Equilibrium
A thermodynamic system may exist in various forms of equilibrium: stable, unstable and metastable. These diverse types of equilibrium states may be understood through analogy with a simple mechanical system as depicted in fig. 1.3 – a spherical body in a variety of gradients on a surface.
Fig. 1.3 Types of Mechanical Equilibrium
Consider the body to be initially in state ‘I’. If disturbed by a mechanical force of a very small magnitude the body will return to its initial state. However, if the disturbance is of a large magnitude, the body is unlikely to return to its initial state. In this type of situation the body is said to be in unstable equilibrium. Consider next the state ‘II’; even a very small disturbance will move the body to either positions ‘I’ or ‘III’. This type of original equilibrium state is termed metastable. Lastly, if the body is initially in state ‘III’, it will tend to return to this state even under the influence of relatively larger disturbances. The body is then said to be in a stable equilibrium state. If ‘E’ is the potential energy of the body and ‘x’ is the effective displacement provided to the body in the vertical direction, the three equilibrium states may be described by the following equations:
Stable Equilibrium: ....(1.7)
Unstable Equilibrium : ....(1.8)
Metastable Equilibrium: ....(1.9)
The above arguments may well be extended to understand equilibrium states of thermodynamic systems, which are relatively more complex in configuration. The disturbances in such cases could be mechanical, thermal or chemical in nature. As we shall see later (section 6.3), for thermodynamic systems, the equivalent of (mechanical) potential energy is Gibbs free energy. The considerations of change of Gibbs free energy are required to understand various complex behaviour that a thermodynamic system containing multiple phases and components (either reactive or non-reactive) may display under the influence of changes brought about by exchange of energy across its boundary.
|1. What is thermodynamic equilibrium?|
|2. Why is thermodynamic equilibrium important in thermodynamics?|
|3. What are the different types of thermodynamic equilibrium?|
|4. How is thermal equilibrium different from mechanical equilibrium?|
|5. Can a system be in thermal equilibrium without being in mechanical equilibrium?|