What is Thermodynamic Equilibrium?

Thermodynamic Equilibrium Defined

Let us suppose that there are two bodies at different temperatures, one hot and one cold. When these two bodies are brought in physical contact with each other, temperature of both the bodies will change. The hot body will tend to become colder while the cold body will tend to become hotter. Eventually both the bodies will achieve the same temperatures and they are said to be in thermodynamic equilibrium with each other. In an isolated system when there is no change in the macroscopic property of the system like entropy, internal energy etc, it is said to be in thermodynamic equilibrium. The state of the system which is in thermodynamic equilibrium is determined by intensive properties such as temperature, pressure, volume etc.

Whenever the system is in thermodynamic equilibrium, it tends to remain in this state infinitely and will not change spontaneously. Thus when the system is in thermodynamic equilibrium there won’t be any spontaneous change in its macroscopic properties.

Conditions for Thermodynamic Equilibrium

The system is said to be in thermodynamic equilibrium if the conditions for following three equilibrium is satisfied:

1) Mechanical equilibrium

2) Chemical equilibrium

3) Thermal equilibrium

1) Mechanical equilibrium: When there are no unbalanced forces within the system and between the system and the surrounding, the system is said to be under mechanical equilibrium. The system is also said to be in mechanical equilibrium when the pressure throughout the system and between the system and surrounding is same. Whenever some unbalance forces exist within the system, they will get neutralized to attain the condition of equilibrium. Two systems are said to be in mechanical equilibrium with each other when their pressures are same.

2) Chemical equilibrium: The system is said to be in chemical equilibrium when there are no chemical reactions going on within the system or there is no transfer of matter from one part of the system to other due to diffusion. Two systems are said to be in chemical equilibrium with each other when their chemical potentials are same.

3) Thermal equilibrium: When the system is in mechanical and chemical equilibrium and there is no spontaneous change in any of its properties, the system is said to be in thermal equilibrium. When the temperature of the system is uniform and not changing throughout the system and also in the surroundings, the system is said to be thermal equilibrium. Two systems are said to be thermal equilibrium with each other if their temperatures are same.

For the system to be thermodynamic equilibrium it is necessary that it should be under mechanical, chemical and thermal equilibrium. If any one of the above condition are not fulfilled, the system is said to be in non-equilibrium.

>>>Next: Part-2 of this article: What is Thermodynamic Equilibrium: Part-2: Causes of Non-Equilibruim of the System

Reference

Book: Engineering Thermodynamics by P K Nag

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