Energy Merit Badge – Energy is necessary to heat, cool, and light our homes, schools, offices, and factories. Energy also moves cars, trucks, buses, planes, trains, and ships.
Boomboxes, beagles, our bodies, insects, the Internet, instruments, farms, frogs, fish, telephones, televisions, trees, wind, weather, and the water cycle all require energy.
You cannot understand the world you live in without understanding energy. Because that’s the importance of us learning in understanding energy as we will discuss in this article.
Energy Merit Badge Requirements
- Do the following:
- With your parent’s permission, use the internet to find a blog, podcast, website, or an article on the use or conservation of energy. Discuss with your counselor what details in the article were interesting to you, the questions it raises, and what ideas it addresses that you do not understand.
- After you have completed requirements 2 through 8, revisit your source for requirement 1a. Explain to your counselor what you have learned in completing the requirements that help you better understand the article.
- Show you understand energy forms and conversions by doing the following:
- Explain how THREE of the following devices use energy, and explain their energy conversions: toaster, greenhouse, lightbulb, bow drill, cell phone, nuclear reactor, and sweat lodge.
- Construct a system that makes at least two energy conversions and explain this to your counselor.
- Show you understand energy efficiency by explaining to your counselor a common example of a situation where energy moves through a system to produce a useful result. Do the following:
- Identify the parts of the system that are affected by the energy movement.
- Name the system’s primary source of energy.
- Identify the useful outcomes of the system.
- Identify the energy losses of the system.
- Conduct an energy audit of your home. Keep a 14-day log that records what you and your family did to reduce energy use. Include the following in your report and, after the 14-day period, discuss what you have learned with your counselor:
- List the types of energy used in your homes such as electricity, wood, oil, liquid petroleum, and natural gas, and tell how each is delivered and measured, and the current cost; OR record the transportation fuel used, miles driven, miles per gallon, and trips using your family car or another vehicle.
- Describe ways you and your family can use energy resources more wisely. In preparing your discussion, consider the energy required for the things you do and use on a daily basis (cooking, showering, using lights, driving, watching TV, using the computer). Explain what is meant by sustainable energy sources. Explain how you can change your energy use through reuse and recycling.
- In a notebook, identify and describe five examples of energy waste in your school or community. Suggest in each case possible ways to reduce this waste. Describe the idea of trade-offs in energy use. In your response, do the following:
- Explain how the changes you suggest would lower costs, reduce pollution, or otherwise improve your community.
- Explain what changes to routines, habits, or convenience are necessary to reduce energy waste. Tell why people might resist the changes you suggest.
- Prepare pie charts showing the following information, and explain to your counselor the important ideas each chart reveals. Tell your counselor where you got your information. Explain how cost affects the use of a nonrenewable energy resource and makes alternatives practical.
- The energy resources that supply the United States with most of its energy.
- The share of energy resources used by the United States that comes from other countries.
- The proportion of energy resources used by homes, businesses, industry, and transportation.
- The fuels used to generate America’s electricity.
- The world’s known and estimated primary energy resource reserves.
- Tell what is being done to make FIVE of the following energy systems produce more usable energy. In your explanation, describe the technology, cost, environmental impacts, and safety concerns.
- Biomass digesters or waste-to-energy plants.
- Cogeneration plants.
- Fossil fuel power plants.
- Fuel cells.
- Geothermal power plants.
- Nuclear power plants.
- Solar power systems.
- Tidal energy, wave energy, or ocean thermal energy conversion devices.
- Wind turbines.
- Find out what opportunities are available for a career in energy. Choose one position that interests you and describe the education and training required.
The Story of Energy
All forms of energy trace their origin to the stars. Stars are huge balls of mostly hydrogen held together in space by crushing gravity.
Stars radiate vast amounts of energy in all directions by changing hydrogen into helium and other heavier elements.
Through this process, stars either release energy or store it in the nuclei of the heavier elements they create. In the tremendous heat and pressure of a star, two hydrogen atoms are crushed together until they join nuclei in a process called fusion.
The new nucleus formed through the fusion of hydrogen is of different element helium. The mass of the helium nucleus is less than the mass of the two hydrogen nuclei that formed it.
The tiny amount of lost mass is converted into energy that spreads out from the star into space. This radiant energy is the main character of our story as it moves energy from the stars to Earth. As stars get older, they fuse atoms into heavier elements.
However, stars cannot form atoms heavier than iron because for fusion to continue, it must produce more energy than it uses in forming the heavier atoms. To make atoms heavier than iron by fusion requires energy put into the process.
Heavy atoms form in a spectacular way. Very large stars eventually explode in an event called a supernova. This explosion creates very heavy atoms and spreads them into space.
Scientists believe that all atoms heavier than iron were produced by supernova explosions. Some nuclei have energy stored in them after their formation. Over time they release this energy through radioactive decay.
By radioactive decay, an atom may release pure energy and become more stable, or discharge particles that carry off the energy.
All of the energy sources in the world around us come from the energy pouring out of stars. And most of the energy that powers the functions of our world comes from a tiny portion
of the energy of the sun our nearest star.
The sun constantly produces about 400 billion megawatts of energy. The amount that hits Earth is tiny (about five 10-billionths of the total energy of the sun), but that tiny portion powers all of Earth’s life forms, food production, and weather processes. The rest of the sun’s energy goes flying past us into space.
Radiant energy floods from the sun as a mixture of different forms of electromagnetic radiation. Think of this as a fountain that constantly sprays a mixture of different beverages. In the mixture are coffee, tea, fruit punch, soda, grape juice, orange juice, and lemon juice.
We can understand the whole mix by understanding the different types of beverages that make it up. While this concoction is made of seven different drinks, they all are alike in one way each is made of mostly water.
Similarly, EMR is a mix of seven different kinds of what is basically one thing radiant energy. Scientists divide the mixture into different categories for ease of study and discussion. The seven kinds, from lowest to highest energy, are as follows.
|1. Radio waves. People use radio waves to send information to receivers radios. Many stars and nebulae (dust and gas clouds in space) also give off radio waves. Another natural source is lightning. As a thunderstorm approaches, you hear crackles on the radio caused by bursts of radio waves created by lightning flashes.|
|2. Microwaves. Stars and galaxies create natural microwaves. In microwave ovens, microwaves penetrate food and cause water molecules in the food to vibrate, producing heat to cook the food.|
|3. Heat (infrared radiation). Heat possesses enough energy that we can feel it if it is intense enough.|
|4. Visible light. Objects in the world around us scatter and absorb visible light.|
|5. Ultraviolet. Ultraviolet light has enough energy in its waves to damage the receptors in our eyes or the outer layers of our skin. UV radiation is the cause of suntans, sunburns, and some forms of skin cancer.|
|6. X-rays. X-rays have so much energy they can pass through our bodies and expose photographic film on the other side. Hot gases in our galaxy emit natural X-rays.|
|7. Gamma radiation. This is energy so powerful it can penetrate deep through solid materials. Star processes or the decay of some radioactive atoms produces gamma radiation.|
Energy comes to Earth from electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun, stars, nebulae, and other sources in our galaxy. Energy is stored in heavy atoms made in the death explosions of stars.
So how does this celestial energy drive the natural processes in our earthly world?
1. Mechanical Energy
Mechanical energy is the motion energy of physical objects. Solar radiant energy can move objects, including air molecules in Earth’s atmosphere. As air molecules absorb heat from the sun, they gain energy and move faster.
As they move faster, they spread out. As they spread out, the air in a given space gets thinner, making it lighter, and it rises. The rising of heated air causes winds that have many powerful effects on Earth.
For example, if the wind becomes strong enough, it picks up sand and dust and becomes a powerful eroding force. Wind blowing over water creates waves and currents.
Wind pushes sailing ships, and it can help you ride your bike (or hold you back).
Another form of mechanical energy is the effect of the wind on movable solid objects. As wind vibrates leaves, a dining fly, or the siding on a house, it produces sound.
Any time the use of energy causes air vibrations, the result is sound waves. Sound carries the energy of molecules in motion.
Radiant energy has other effects on the natural environment. Heat, microwaves, and visible light all make water molecules move faster.
Solar energy increases the temperature at the surface of the oceans and adds energy to snow and ice until they are warmed enough to melt into water.
But probably the most important effect of the sun’s radiant energy on the water is to evaporate liquid water into water vapor, which rises into the atmosphere and is moved about by the winds.
When it cools, it condenses back into liquid water and falls as rain.
2. Chemical Energy
The sun’s radiant energy drives processes by which atoms form bonds that store energy. The best-known way this is done is photosynthesis.
A plant absorbs low-energy substances from its environment (mainly carbon dioxide and water) and, using radiant energy from the sun, builds complex molecules (glucose being the most important).
The complex molecules have energy stored in their bonds. The plant may use the energy in these complex molecules for its own growth, repair, and reproduction.
An animal may eat and digest the plant and use the energy released from the plant’s molecules to make molecules for its own use.
Also, burning the plant will release the chemical energy stored in the molecules. Burning gives radiant energy light and heat. This process of storing radiant energy in high-energy molecules has been happening on Earth for a long time.
Uncountable tons of plants and animals have lived, stored up the sun’s energy in their molecules, then died. In many places, large amounts of these plants and animals were buried under layers of sediment that turned to rock.
Under the pressure of the rocks and the heat from the interior of Earth, these materials became coal, oil, and natural gas. These forms of stored chemical energy are known as fossil fuels.
3. Nuclear Energy
The heat from inside Earth that helped form the fossil fuels is radioactive decay one of the few forms of energy that does not come directly from our sun. Radioactive atoms, formed in stars, release energy from their nuclei.
Inside Earth, a constant release of this energy continues to heat the interior. If not for this process, Earth would long ago have cooled to a frozen mass, even with the energy input of the sun.
Another form of nuclear energy, mentioned earlier, is fission. Fission occurs when very heavy atoms absorb neutrons (atomic particles) and split, converting mass to energy.
Today, the fission process is used in nuclear reactors in power plants that produce electrical energy.
4. Electrical Energy
Radiant energy from the sun produces electrical energy in nature by stirring the winds and clouds. This stirring builds up electrical charges in clouds and results in lightning. Lightning produces the flash of light (electrical energy) we see.
Another source of electricity in nature comes from certain electrochemical reactions. The most interesting of these may be the reactions in the bodies of electric eels that use bursts of electricity to stun prey and for defense.
Electrochemical reactions also produce electricity in most batteries. People have discovered that the most useful way to produce electricity is to move a strong magnet near a conductor like copper.
The field of the magnet causes an electric current in the conductor. Such a device is called a generator and is used in cars, power plants, and other places.
By using sources of mechanical energy, magnets can be spun inside coils of wire, producing huge amounts of electrical energy.
Also Read: Electricity Merit Badge
Energy Conversion Devices
Every useful process happens through the conversion of energy from one form to another. Before people invented cars, tractors, and power plants, they had only the muscle power of humans and animals.
Living animals (including humans) are complex systems for converting the chemical energy stored in food to heat and movement. Some of that chemical energy is used to make the heat that keeps our bodies warm.
When we use our muscles to breathe, pump blood, run, or pitch a tent, the muscles must have energy that comes from the food we ate. Other than muscle power, fire has been the most useful energy conversion.
Fire is an energy conversion from chemical energy to light and heat. Furnaces and heaters function to make heat available to keep us comfortable in cold weather. Many devices have been invented to make use of heat to help us accomplish other tasks.
An engine is any device designed to convert thermal (heat) energy into useful motion (mechanical energy). People have invented many different systems to accomplish this vital energy conversion.
Early steam engines used fire to power trains, ships, and farm machinery. Today cars, trucks, buses, trains, airplanes, and tractors get their power from internal combustion engines, which use fire inside a chamber in the engine.
A rocket engine uses the rapid burning of its fuel to provide the powerful pushing force to send vehicles into space.
2. Electric Motors
Electric motors are machines that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. Many devices rely on electric motors creating movement when we need it. Fans move air and push air out of furnaces and air conditioners to heat and cool us.
Freezers and refrigerators use electric motors to move heat. The windshield wipers of cars work on electric motors. Water pumps, garage door openers, elevators, drawbridges, car hoists, and construction cranes all rely on electric motors.
Energy conversions are used to make electricity. Many power plants rely on a combustion boiler to use a chemical fuel to boil water into steam. Nuclear plants use a nuclear reactor as their source of heat and steam.
Steam-powered power plants need to convert the motion of the steam from a straight line into a circular, spinning motion. The device that does this is a turbine.
The spinning motion of the turbine shaft can then be connected to a generator, which converts this mechanical energy to electricity.
We often convert electrical energy into light. The most common electric light is an incandescent light, which superheats a wire inside a bulb until it glows.
Fluorescent lights are different and actually make two energy conversions. First, electrons passing through a mercury gas strike mercury atomns and give off ultraviolet light. The UV light strikes a coating on the inside of the tube and changes UV light into white light.
This effect is known as fluorescence. We also are able to convert electricity into a useful form of light with lasers.
Batteries provide portable, stored electricity. They commonly power flashlights, radios, and other portable devices. Inside these batteries, reactions change chemical energy into electric current.
When all of the chemicals have reacted, the battery cannot be made to produce more electricity.
Storage batteries make use of two energy conversions. They use electricity to store chemical energy, then switch chemical energy back to electricity when needed.
A car battery is a storage battery that uses an acid solution and lead plates to store the electricity used to charge it.
Rechargeable lithium batteries produce electricity by transferring lithium atoms from the anode (negative pole) to the cathode (positive pole).
By applying electricity to the battery, the lithium atoms can be forced back to the anode. Then the battery is ready to use again.
Also Read: Electronics Merit Badge
4. Other Devices Convert Energy
So many other devices convert energy, it is impossible to name them all here. This list, however, may give you additional ideas for completing requirement 2.
- Radio transmitters convert electricity into radio waves, and radio receivers convert the radio waves back into electricity that speakers can change to sound (mechanical) energy.
- Solar cells convert radiant energy, or sunlight, directly into electricity.
- Explosives convert chemical energy into motion in a hurry!
- A car transmission takes in mechanical energy and gives out mechanical energy, but it allows us to control this energy more precisely.
- A computer takes in electricity and makes many changes to it to store and use the information it represents.
- Sailboats use the mechanical energy of the wind to create mechanical motion of the boat.
- Telescopes and microscopes work by gathering light energy and organizing it so we can see hidden objects better.
6. Table Forms of Energy
The Forms of Energy table lists devices that convert energy from one form to another. The columns represent the energy that is used, the rows show the energy that results.
Shaded boxes mean there is no practical device that makes the conversion described. For example, no way is known to use chemical energy to make atomic (nuclear) energy.
The first law of thermodynamics is good news for energy users because it tells how energy can be changed from one form to another to make it usable.
Many different devices use energy conversions to provide the systems that make modern