Joule–Thomson effect

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In thermodynamics, the Joule–Thomson effect or Joule–Kelvin effect or Kelvin–Joule effect describes the temperature change of a gas or liquid when it is forced through a valve or porous plug while kept insulated so that no heat is exchanged with the environment.[1][2][3] This procedure is called a throttling process or Joule–Thomson process.[4] At room temperature, all gases except hydrogen, helium and neon cool upon expansion by the Joule–Thomson process.[5][6]

The effect is named for James Prescott Joule and William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin who discovered it in 1852 following earlier work by Joule on Joule expansion, in which a gas undergoes free expansion in a vacuum.



The adiabatic (no heat exchanged) expansion of a gas may be carried out in a number of ways. The change in temperature experienced by the gas during expansion depends not only on the initial and final pressure, but also on the manner in which the expansion is carried out.

  • If the expansion process is reversible, meaning that the gas is in thermodynamic equilibrium at all times, it is called an isentropic expansion. In this scenario, the gas does positive work during the expansion, and its temperature decreases.
  • In a free expansion, on the other hand, the gas does no work and absorbs no heat, so the internal energy is conserved. Expanded in this manner, the temperature of an ideal gas would remain constant, but the temperature of a real gas may either increase or decrease, depending on the initial temperature and pressure.
  • The method of expansion discussed in this article, in which a gas or liquid at pressure P1 flows into a region of lower pressure P2 via a valve or porous plug under steady state conditions and without change in kinetic energy, is called the Joule–Thomson process. During this process, enthalpy remains unchanged (see a proof below).

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