Carnot’s cycle for small systems: Irreversibility and cost of operations

Ken Sekimoto, Fumiko Takagi, Tsuyoshi Hondou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


In the thermodynamic limit, the existence of a maximal efficiency of energy conversion attainable by a Carnot cycle consisting of quasistatic isothermal and adiabatic processes precludes the existence of a perpetual machine of the second kind, whose cycles yield positive work in an isothermal environment. We employ the recently developed framework of the energetics of stochastic processes (called “stochastic energetics”) to reanalyze the Carnot cycle in detail, taking account of fluctuations, without taking the thermodynamic limit. We find that in this nonmacroscopic situation both processes of connection to and disconnection from heat baths and adiabatic processes that cause distortion of the energy distribution are sources of inevitable irreversibility within the cycle. Also, the so-called null-recurrence property of the cumulative efficiency of energy conversion over many cycles and the irreversible property of isolated, purely mechanical processes under external “macroscopic” operations are discussed in relation to the impossibility of a perpetual machine, or Maxwell’s demon. This analysis may serve as the basis for the design and analysis of mesoscopic energy converters in the near future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7759-7768
Number of pages10
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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