what has more energy?

Jenna asks:

What has more energy, an unburned log or the ashes of the log once it has been burned?

The wood has more energy. As the wood burn, it releases some of the energy that is stored in the wood – heat, sound, and light are all forms of the energy that is released.

What happens when wood burns is that many of the large complex molecules that the tree made while it was growing get broken down into smaller molecules. This releases energy. Some of that energy is used to break other molecules in the wood apart, and the rest is released to the environment. The reason wood doesn’t just light on fire by itself is because it needs that initial energy to start breaking the first molecules up. Once it’s going, it will keep going until it either runs out of things to burn (in which case it doesn’t have any more molecules that it can break up), or until it cools off enough that there isn’t enough energy to break up more molecules.

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