What Is Latent Heat? (Types, Formula, Problem, Example)

Latent Heat Explanation

Hello, science enthusiasts and curious learners! Are you ready to dive into a concept that’s as invisible as it is powerful, influencing everything from the water cycle to how your air conditioner keeps you cool? We’re exploring the fascinating world of latent heat, the hidden energy involved in changing the state of a substance without altering its temperature. This stealthy player in the realms of physics and thermodynamics plays a crucial role in many natural and technological processes.

This lecture will overview latent heat and how to use physical property data to help us with latent heat calculations. So, the term latent heat is used to describe heat transfer. It is associated with a phase change, and specifically a phase change at constant temperature and pressure. So, considering the phases, the only variable is changing latent heat from sensible heat. It is the heat transfer associated with the temperature change.

The phase changes in chemical engineering operations are the transition between a solid and a liquid and liquid and vapor. The transition of a solid to a liquid is melting. The change in specific enthalpy associated with that change is the melting heat. The transition between a liquid and vapor is vaporization, and the specific enthalpy change associated with that process is the heat of vaporization.

Grab your thinking cap and a refreshing drink because we’re about to uncover the secrets of latent heat and its impact on our world. Let’s turn up the heat (metaphorically speaking) on our understanding of this hidden energy!

What is Latent Heat?

The latent heat is the energy required to change the substance’s state from one phase to another. In other words, it’s the amount of energy to make a certain amount. It’s the phase of a substance to go from a liquid to a gas or a solid to a liquid and so forth. Different substances will have different values for their latent heat. The term latent heat was invented by Joseph Black in 1750 in search of ideal quantities of fuel and water for their distilling process.

Latent heat graph
Latent heat graph

What is the temperature change when you add heat to ice or water? When someone adds heat to the ice, the ice will melt, and then the water’s temperature will rise, which will continue for some time. Look at the temperature vs. time graph where the X-axis represents the time and the Y-axis represents temperature. After some time, the temperature rise stops, so it rises for a specific time. Then it becomes flat for some time. It remains flat at 100 degrees Celsius.

What’s happening here? It’s the latent heat of vaporization. The water turns into water vapor into gas or steam. So the water, the liquid, is changing into a gas at 100 degrees centigrade. When the state change is happening from liquid to gas, there is no change in temperature.

Phase i – Phase transition from solid to liquid. Latent heat of fusion is needed to break the solid bond.

Phase ii – Phase transition liquid to gas. Latent heat of vaporization is needed to break liquid bonds.

To understand the topic of latent heat, you should be familiar with the following:

  • The law of conservation of energy.
  • The effect of intermolecular forces on phase transitions.

Types of latent heat: There are three different types of latent heat. They are,

  • Latent Heat of Fusion.
  • Latent Heat of Vaporization.
  • Latent Heat of Sublimation.

Latent heat formula: Two formulas depend on the phase or temperature to calculate latent heat or energy.

E = m × L ( For phase change).
Q = m × c × ΔT ( For temperature change ).

Here, E & Q is the energy for a state change, and m (kg) is mass. L is the specific latent heat (J/kg) & c is the specific heat capacity.

Latent heat in Chemistry

In chemistry and physics, latent heat refers to the amount of energy (in the form of heat) that is absorbed or released by a substance during a change of state (also known as a phase transition) without a temperature change. These state changes include melting (solid to liquid), freezing (liquid to solid), vaporization (liquid to gas), condensation (gas to liquid), sublimation (solid to gas), and deposition (gas to solid). Latent heat is a critical concept in understanding how energy is transferred in physical processes and is essential in various fields, including meteorology, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), and materials science.

There are two main types of latent heat:

Latent Heat of Fusion (L_f): This is the heat required to change a substance from solid to liquid at its melting point. It is absorbed by the substance during melting and released during freezing. The latent heat of fusion is crucial for understanding processes like ice melting in water, which plays a significant role in climate systems and the energy balance of the Earth’s surface.

Latent Heat of Vaporization (L_v): This is the heat required to change a substance from liquid to gas at its boiling point. It is absorbed by the substance during vaporization and released during condensation. The latent heat of vaporization is significantly larger than the latent heat of fusion because breaking the intermolecular forces to transition from liquid to gas requires more energy than transitioning from solid to liquid. This concept is important in understanding the energy involved in the water cycle, including evaporation and condensation processes.

The values of latent heat are specific to each substance and are usually expressed in units of energy per mass, such as joules per kilogram (J/kg). For example, the latent heat of fusion for water is approximately 334,000 J/kg, and the latent heat of vaporization for water is about 2,260,000 J/kg at 100°C.

Latent heat plays a fundamental role in many natural and technological processes. For example, in weather systems, the latent heat of vaporization of water vapor is a key driver of storm dynamics. Understanding and managing latent heat is crucial for efficient energy use in refrigeration and distilling liquids in industrial applications.

Latent Heat in Physics

In physics, latent heat refers to the amount of heat energy (q) required to change the phase of a substance without changing its temperature. This concept is pivotal in understanding how substances absorb or release energy during phase transitions, such as melting, freezing, vaporization, condensation, sublimation, and deposition.

Latent heat is associated with the energy change involved in overcoming or establishing intermolecular forces during a phase change rather than increasing the kinetic energy of the particles, which would raise the temperature.

Types of Latent Heat

Latent Heat of Fusion (L_f): This is the heat energy required per unit mass to change a substance from solid to liquid (or vice versa) at its melting point. It measures the energy needed to overcome the forces holding the solid together, allowing it to become a liquid without changing temperature.

Latent Heat of Vaporization (L_v): This is the heat energy required per unit mass to change a substance from liquid to gas (or vice versa) at its boiling point. The latent heat of vaporization is typically much larger than the latent heat of fusion because breaking the intermolecular forces in a liquid to transition into a gas phase requires more energy.


The amount of heat energy (Q) involved in a phase change can be calculated using the formula:



Q is the heat energy absorbed or released,

m is the mass of the substance,

L is the latent heat (either Lf or Lv, depending on the phase change involved).

Latent heat is crucial for various physical processes and applications, including:

Climate and Weather: The latent heat of the vaporization of water plays a significant role in weather patterns and climate dynamics. For instance, when water evaporates, it absorbs heat from the environment, which can lead to cooling. Conversely, when water vapor condenses into rain, latent heat is released, warming the surrounding air and potentially contributing to storm intensity.

Cooling Systems: Refrigeration and air conditioning systems exploit the latent heat of vaporization of refrigerants to absorb and remove heat from a space.

Energy Storage: Phase change materials (PCMs) that absorb or release latent heat at a specific temperature are used in energy storage systems, providing thermal energy storage for heating and cooling applications.

Latent Heat problem and solution

Problem: How much energy is needed to take 2.5 kilograms of ice (solid water) at -15 °C and turn it into liquid water at 35 °C?

Solution: The first is the energy needed to raise the temperature from minus 15 to zero. That’s when it’s going to be solid.

Here, ΔQ = 2.5 kg, c = 2100 J/kg °C, ΔT = 15 °C.

ΔQ (ice) = m × c × ΔT = 2.5 kg × 2100 J/kg °C × 15 °C = 78,750 J.
ΔQ (melting) = m × L = 2.5 kg × (333.10 × 1000) = 832,500 J.
ΔQ (liquid) = m × c × ΔT = 2.5 kg × 4186 J/kg °C × 35 °C = 366,275 J.

ΔQ (total) = ΔQ (ice) + ΔQ (melting) + ΔQ (liquid) = 1198,854 J.

Sensible heat: Sensible heat is a sensing heat that increases matter and can be sensed. Suppose you feel something warm that is sensible heat.

Reasonable heat: Latent heat is frequently called reasonable heat. It reflects heat move among issues and its environment.

Latent heat of fusion

Latent heat of fusion of ice is the amount of heat required to change a unit mass of ice at its melting point into liquid at the same temperature. Did you know that the latent heat of fusion affects our lives greatly? Let’s discuss some consequences of the latent heat of the fusion of ice. The temperature becomes very low after a hailstorm.

Every kilogram of ice absorbs 336 kilojoules of heat energy from the surroundings and melts. As a result, the weather becomes very cold. For the same reason, it becomes bitterly cold as soon as the snow melts in cold countries. The weather gets pleasant when freezing starts in cold countries. Every kilogram of water on freezing releases 336 kilojoules of heat. Thus, when freezing starts in cold countries, a huge amount of heat energy is released into the atmosphere. This makes the weather pleasant.

Snow on the mountains does not melt all at once. Ice or snow has a very high latent heat of fusion equal to 336 kilojoules per kilogram. The required heat energy must be absorbed by the Sun to melt 1 kg of ice or snow on mountains. Therefore, snow on the mountains changes into water slowly as it absorbs heat from the Sun.

Water in lakes and ponds in cold countries does not completely freeze. The water freezes slowly, thus saving the surroundings from freezing and moderating the atmosphere. Aquatic life can survive in cold countries even if the atmosphere’s temperature is zero degrees Celsius or below zero degrees Celsius.

It is because the water does not start freezing immediately. The surface water will first freeze when temperatures are below zero degrees Celsius. But below the surface, it is not frozen. The high latent heat of the fusion of ice and the anomalous water expansion enables aquatic life to survive in cold countries.

Anomalous water expansion: When water at zero degrees Celsius is heated, it contracts to four degrees Celsius instead of expanding and behaves like any other liquid at about four degrees Celsius. This behavior of water is referred to as the anomalous expansion of water.

The natural consequence of the anomalous expansion of water: When the water on the surface of a water body cools down to four degrees Celsius, its density will increase and sink. The warmer layer of water from the bottom rises to the surface. This layer cools to zero Degrees Celcius and thus forms a layer of ice.

At four degrees Celsius, the dense layer of water remains in the liquid state. The ice formed on the surface is a bad conductor of heat and provides a suitable condition for fish and other aquatic animals’ survival.

Latent heat of vaporization

Latent heat of vaporization or latent heat of sublimation tells how much energy is needed to go from a solid to a liquid. Likewise, how much energy will be released if the liquid is converted back into a solid? The hydrogen bonds between the water molecules must be broken to change from a liquid to a gas.

Hydrogen bonds must be detached from each other to convert water into a gas form. It must break these hydrogen bonds, which barely exist in the gas form. Hydrogen bonds are much stronger than most other types of intermolecular forces. A relatively high amount of energy must be used to break them. So again, the energy used to pull water molecules apart is provided with heat energy. The amounts are much more relative to other types of molecules.

Water has a high latent heat of vaporization. Vaporization means two things. It means turning a liquid into a gas, which can be done in two methods.

  • By evaporation.
  • By boiling.

They both come under the heading of vaporization because it’s becoming vapor. So latent vaporization heat is the energy needed to vaporize one gram of a substance. For example, To change one gram of liquid water into vapor, the energy is the latent heat of vaporization. It differs from specific heat capacity, which raises the water temperature by one degree.

When the water evaporates and those hydrogen bonds are broken, the water molecules that can break their hydrogen bonds have the highest kinetic energy. Because that heat energy has been input. The energy will break certain existing bonds as that energy is transferred to the bonds.

Then, those water molecules are free to become a gas. So, the ones that can do this have the highest kinetic energy. The ones staying put and bonded to other molecules in a liquid form have lower kinetic energy.

When the ones with the highest energy become gas, and they’ve escaped, there’s a decrease in the average kinetic energy of the remaining water molecules. Suppose several molecules are being released because several hydrogen bonds have been broken. The average energy in the whole area has now gone down. The kinetic energy has gone down, and kinetic energy means temperature. The temperature of the water has now decreased.

So evaporation has a cooling effect whereby those specific water molecules evaporate. The rest of everything left behind has reduced its temperature. It is an excellent physiological mechanism for sweating. Humans use the evaporation of sweat from our skin to reduce our body temperature effectively. So, if the temperature around us rises, we need to be aware of this because our proteins can denature if it goes too high.

What is specific latent heat?

The specific latent heat of a substance is the amount of energy required to change the state of one kilogram of substance with no change in temperature. How much energy would melting 1 kilogram of ice take? Scientists have worked this out, and it takes 334,000 joules of energy to melt 1 kilogram of ice. Scientists call this energy the specific latent heat of fusion. So this is the energy required to change 1 kilogram of a substance from a solid to a liquid with no temperature change.

How much energy would that take to change a substance from a liquid to a gas or boil it? Scientists call this the specific latent heat of vaporization. The specific latent heat of vaporization is the energy required to change one kilogram of a substance from a liquid to vapor with no temperature change.

Specific latent heat formula

It states that a state change’s energy equals the multiplication of mass and specific latent heat.

E = m × L ( For phase change).
Q = m × c × ΔT ( For temperature change ).

Here, E (J) is the energy for a state change, and m (kg) is mass. L is the specific latent heat (J/kg) & c is the specific heat capacity.

  • Specific heat of water is 4,200 J/kg °C.
  • Specific heat of ice is 2093 J/kg °C.
  • Specific heat of steam is 2.010 kJ °C kg-1.

Specific latent heat problem and solution

Problem 1: Calculate the energy required to convert 0.5kg of ice to liquid water. The specific latent heat of the fusion of water is 334000 J/kg.

Solution: The energy for a state change equals the mass multiplied by the specific latent heat.

In this case,

m = 0.5 kg.
L = 334000 J/kg.

Energy required, E = m × L = 0.5 kg × 334000 J/kg = 167,000 J.

Problem 2: Calculate the energy required to convert 0.15kg of ethanol from a liquid to a vapor. The specific latent heat of the vaporization of ethanol is 846,000 J/kg.

Solution: The energy for a state change is the mass multiplied by the specific latent heat.

In this case,

m = 0.15kg.
L = 846,000 J/kg.

Energy required, E = m × L = 0.15 kg × 846,000 J/kg = 126,900 J.

Experiment of latent heat

We have a container of water to which we are adding table salt. Let’s stir that up. Next, we will crush up some ice to add to the saltwater. Our goal is to lower the temperature of the ice bath. Let’s add some more salt. Freezing point depression, yeah! Alright, minus 8 degrees Celcius. That’s pretty good.

Let’s place a smaller container of liquid water into this ice bath. We’ve added green food coloring to the water to make it easier for you to understand. After a few minutes, we’ll insert a thermometer and watch the temperature drop as the ice bath cools the water. The temperature reads about -5 degrees Celsius.

The green water is still a liquid despite being below its normal freezing point. It is called supercooling. In the next step of this demo, we will add a couple of small ice pieces to the green water. The supercooled water will crystallize rapidly with the addition of ice.

Observation: When this happens, what do you predict will happen to the temperature on the thermometer? Will it increase, decrease, or stay the same? What reasoning supports your prediction?

Be sure to keep your eye on the digital display. Now, we’ll drop a couple of small pieces of ice into the container of green water. Watch what’s happening. The green water froze. There is still a little liquid, but we can turn the container upside down, and you can see that the ice remains inside. So, when the liquid froze, what happened to the temperature?

The temperature went up! Is this what you predicted? How can we explain what happened? Let’s think about what happens at a molecular level when water changes phase from a liquid to a solid. In the liquid state, water molecules move around a lot. As it gets colder, the water molecules slow down. Generally speaking, as the water cools and solidifies, there is an increase in hydrogen bonding, the dominant intermolecular force amongst the water molecules.

Can you now explain why we observed a temperature increase when the water froze with this hint? Please take a moment to think about it independently and then discuss your idea with a classmate. As we said before, when water transitions from liquid to solid, there is an increase in hydrogen bonds formed between water molecules.

Does bond formation release energy or require energy? Bond formation releases energy. So then, is the process of ice forming exothermic or endothermic? Ice formation is exothermic.

If we were to balance the system and the surroundings, we would see that the energy released by the water freezing is equivalent to the thermal energy that caused the temperature to increase. This is the Law of Conservation of Energy. Generally speaking, when a substance transitions between phases, intermolecular forces between neighboring molecules are formed or broken.

When a substance transitions from a liquid to solid, intermolecular forces, or bonds, are formed, and energy is released to the surroundings. It is called the latent heat of fusion. Energy must overcome intermolecular forces when a substance transitions from a solid to a liquid. So, this is an endothermic process. Energy is absorbed from the surroundings. It is called the latent heat of melting. The latent heat of melting is equivalent in magnitude to the latent heat of fusion but opposite in sign.

Example of latent heat

The phenomenon of latent heat is used in various ways to heat and cool buildings. Using melting ice to absorb thermal energy from the surroundings saves some buildings thousands of dollars annually in cooling costs. Consider a large office building during the middle of a hot summer day. The air conditioning runs at full power to keep the building comfortable, requiring a lot of electricity from the utility company.

Utility companies can’t quickly shut down their power plants, so nearly the same amount of electricity is produced during the night as is during the day. However, nighttime demand for electricity is very low, so utility companies sell this electricity at a lower price. It is a common practice by utility companies across the U.S. Engineers have thought of a way to buy electricity at night when it is very cheap but use it during the day when they need to run the air conditioning. This strategy is called peak load shifting. Think about what you have learned so far. There are a variety of ways. How do you think they do this?

We can decrease the amount of electricity needed in the daytime to cool a building using ice’s energy storage capacity or its latent melting heat. Large tanks in the Bank of America Tower’s basement in New York, such as these, store water that froze overnight using cheap electricity.

The ice melts and absorbs energy from the cooling fluid running through the building’s air conditioning system during the day. Each Bank of America building tank holds approximately 1600 gallons of water, translating to roughly 570 kilowatt hours of cooling capacity. Bank of America reports that these ice tanks supply 25% of their cooling energy annually.

The desire to harness latent heat has led to the development of a class of materials called phase change materials. These materials have been specifically designed to change phases at desirable temperatures to store and release helpful energy to consumers. This slide shows some examples of these materials. This slide’s materials fall into three classes of phase change materials: inorganic salt hydrates, paraffinic hydrocarbons, and organic fatty acids.

Ordinary building materials such as concrete, drywall, or insulation have been engineered over the past 50 years to contain microscopic pellets of phase change materials. Cellulose insulation is commonly used to insulate attics and walls.

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in the United States have impregnated small paraffin pellets in this common insulation type to increase its performance. Because these pellets are microscopic, the phase change insulation looks ordinary to our naked eye. However, under a Scanning Electron Microscopic, the clusters of paraffinic pellets are easy to spot.

Latent Heat Explanation

We’ve traversed the realms of physics, understanding how this hidden energy silently but significantly influences both the natural world and human-made technologies. From the formation of clouds to the inner workings of your fridge, latent heat is a silent powerhouse in driving the processes that make our world what it is. We hope this exploration has ignited a spark of curiosity in you and shed light on the unseen forces that shape our everyday experiences.

Thank you for joining us on this enlightening adventure through the fascinating aspects of thermodynamics. Until our next scientific exploration, keep wondering, keep exploring, and remember—the most incredible processes are often the ones we can’t see. Stay curious, and keep exploring the wonders of science around us!

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Bryan, G.H. Thermodynamics. An Introductory Treatise dealing mainly with First Principles and their Direct Applications.
Maxwell, J.C. Theory of Heat, third edition, Longmans, Green, and Co., London.
Harper, Douglas. “latent.” Online Etymology Dictionary.
Lewis, Charlton An Elementary Latin Dictionary. Entry for latent.
James Burke. “Credit Where It’s Due.” The Day the Universe Changed.

Julia Rose

My name is Julia Rose. I'm a registered clinical therapist, researcher, and coach. I'm the author of this blog. There are also two authors: Dr. Monica Ciagne, a registered psychologist and motivational coach, and Douglas Jones, a university lecturer & science researcher.I would love to hear your opinion, question, suggestions, please let me know. We will try to help you.

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