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energy conversion[′en·ər·jē kən′vər·zhən]
The process of changing energy from one form to another. There are many conversion processes that appear as routine phenomena in nature, such as the evaporation of water by solar energy or the storage of solar energy in fossil fuels. In the world of technology the term is more generally applied to operations of human origin in which the energy is made more usable; for instance, the burning of coal in power plants to convert chemical energy into electricity, the burning of gasoline in automobile engines to convert chemical energy into propulsive energy of a moving vehicle, or the burning of a propellant for ion rockets and plasma jets to provide thrust.
There are well-established principles in science which define the conditions and limits under which energy conversions can be effected, for example, the law of the conservation of energy, the second law of thermodynamics, the Bernoulli principle, and the Gibbs free-energy relation. Recognizable forms of energy which allow varying degrees of conversion include chemical, atomic, electrical, mechanical, light, potential, pressure, kinetic, and heat energy. In some conversion operations the transformation of energy from one form to another, more desirable form may approach 100% efficiency, whereas with others even a “perfect” device or system may have a theoretical limiting efficiency far below 100%. See Energy sources