In thermodynamics, an adiabatic process or an isocaloric process is a thermodynamic process in which no heat is transferred to or from the working fluid. The term "adiabatic" literally means impassable (from Greek ἀ-διὰ-βαῖνειν, not-through-to pass), corresponding here to an absence of heat transfer. Conversely, a process that involves heat transfer (addition or loss of heat to the surroundings) is generally called diabatic. Linguistically, diabatic is the opposite of adiabatic by the absence of the initial a (which conveys negation in Greek).
For example, an adiabatic boundary is a boundary that is impermeable to heat transfer and the system is said to be adiabatically (or thermally) insulated; an insulated wall approximates an adiabatic boundary. Another example is the adiabatic flame temperature, which is the temperature that would be achieved by a flame in the absence of heat loss to the surroundings. An adiabatic process that is reversible is also called an isentropic process. Additionally, an adiabatic process that is irreversible and extracts no work is in an isenthalpic process, such as viscous drag, progressing towards a nonnegative change in entropy.
One opposite extreme—allowing heat transfer with the surroundings, causing the temperature to remain constant—is known as an isothermal process. Since temperature is thermodynamically conjugate to entropy, the isothermal process is conjugate to the adiabatic process for reversible transformations.
A transformation of a thermodynamic system can be considered adiabatic when it is quick enough that no significant heat is transferred between the system and the outside. At the opposite extreme, a transformation of a thermodynamic system can be considered isothermal if it is slow enough so that the system's temperature remains constant by heat exchange with the outside.
Adiabatic heating occurs when the pressure of a gas is increased from work done on it by its surroundings, ie a piston. Diesel engines rely on adiabatic heating during their compression stroke to elevate the temperature sufficiently to ignite the fuel. Similarly jet engines rely upon adiabatic heating to create the correct compression of the air to enable fuel to be injected and ignition to then occur.
Adiabatic cooling occurs when the pressure of a substance is decreased as it does work on its surroundings. Adiabatic cooling does not have to involve a fluid. One technique used to reach very low temperatures (thousandths and even millionths of a degree above absolute zero) is adiabatic demagnetisation, where the change in magnetic field on a magnetic material is used to provide adiabatic cooling. Adiabatic cooling also occurs in the Earth's atmosphere with orographic lifting and lee waves, and this can form pileus or lenticular clouds if the air is cooled below the dew point.
Rising magma also undergoes adiabatic cooling before eruption.
It should be noted that no process is truly adiabatic. Many processes are close to adiabatic and can be easily approximated by using an adiabatic assumption, but there is always some heat loss. There is no such thing as a perfect insulator.
The mathematical equation for an ideal fluid undergoing a reversible (i.e., no entropy generation) adiabatic process is
For reversible adiabatic processes, it is also true that
where T is an absolute temperature.
This can also be written as
where dU is the change in the internal energy of the system and δW is work done by the system. Any work (δW) done must be done at the expense of internal energy U, since no heat δQ is being supplied from the surroundings. Pressure-volume work δW done by the system is defined as
However, P does not remain constant during an adiabatic process but instead changes along with V.
It is desired to know how the values of dP and dV relate to each other as the adiabatic process proceeds. For an ideal gas the internal energy is given by
where R is the universal gas constant and n is the number of moles in the system (a constant).
Differentiating Equation (3) and use of the ideal gas law, , yields
= alpha , d (P V)
= alpha (P , dV + V , dP).
Equation (4) is often expressed as because .
Now substitute equations (2) and (4) into equation (1) to obtain
and divide both sides by PV:
After integrating the left and right sides from to V and from to P and changing the sides respectively,
Exponentiate both sides,
and eliminate the negative sign to obtain
The change in internal energy of a system, measured from state 1 to state 2, is equal to
At the same time, the work done by the pressure-volume changes as a result from this process, is equal to
Since we require the process to be adiabatic, the following equation needs to be true
Substituting (1) and (2) in (3) leads to
If it's further assumed that there are no changes in molar quantity (as often in practical cases), the formula is simplified to this one:
The following diagram is a P-V diagram with a superposition of adiabats and isotherms:
The isotherms are the red curves and the adiabats are the black curves. The adiabats are isentropic. Volume is the horizontal axis and pressure is the vertical axis.