The most efficient heat engine cycle is the Carnot cycle, consisting of two isothermal processes and two adiabatic processes. The Carnot cycle can be thought of as the most efficient heat engine cycle allowed by physical laws. When the second law of thermodynamics states that not all the supplied heat in a heat engine can be used to do work, the Carnot efficiency sets the limiting value on the fraction of the heat which can be so used.
In order to approach the Carnot efficiency, the processes involved in the heat engine cycle must be reversible and involve no change in entropy. This means that the Carnot cycle is an idealization, since no real engine processes are reversible and all real physical processes involve some increase in entropy.
Carnot cycle concepts
Heat engine concepts
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