Energy conversion technology

Figure 1. Coal power plants are energy conversion technologies because they convert chemical energy of their fuel into electricity.[1]

Energy conversion technology refers to any system that converts energy from one form to another. Energy comes in different forms, including heat, work and motion. Moreover, potential energy can be in the form of nuclear, chemical, elastic, gravitational, or radiant energy (also known as light). All of these can be converted into useful energy, with the one of the most common and versatile forms being electricity.[2]

The main goal of power plants is to take a fuel like coal, natural gas or uranium, and transform it into electricity. This makes power plants an energy conversion technology, and they are the largest energy conversion technologies by far. Other conversion technologies include cars, batteries, heaters and generators. Power plants have to make use of many energy conversions in order to get to the final goal—electricity. A coal plant provides a good example:

  1. Chemical energy is stored in the hydrocarbon molecules in the coal. When the coal is combusted, this chemical energy is transformed into heat. (Chemical energy → Heat)
  2. The hot exhaust gases from the combustion reaction is used to heat up water into steam, which travels through pipes at high pressures and speeds.(Heat → Heat)
  3. The steam then expands through a turbine, producing mechanical energy of motion. (Heat → Motion)
  4. The motion of the turbine spins an electrical generator, which causes electricity to flow. (Motion → Electricity)

In fact our own bodies are extremely complex conversion technologies. They take chemical energy from food and convert that into different forms of chemical energy that we need in order to operate. Our body can then use this energy to convert into many other forms: Heat, movement, sound, gravitational potential energy, and more.

More examples

For Further Reading


  1. Wikimedia Commons [Online], Available:
  2. R. Wolfson, "Electricity" in Energy, Environment, and Climate, 2nd ed., New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012, ch. 11, sec. 1, pp. 292