What Are Types of Potential Energy?

Erik (HASH) Hersman/CC-BY 2.0

Potential energy is the stored energy of an object that has the potential to change to a different form of energy to do work. The types of potential energy are gravitational, elastic, chemical, electric and nuclear.

Gravitational potential energy is the energy stored in an object by virtue of its height above the ground. This energy is a result of the attractive gravitational force between the object and the earth. The higher an object is placed, the higher its gravitational potential energy. This energy is transformed to kinetic energy when the object falls to the ground.

Elastic potential energy is the energy stored in elastic objects by either stretching them or compressing them. The amount of potential energy in an elastic material depends on how much the material is stretched or compressed and the elasticity of the material.

Chemical potential energy is the energy stored in chemicals, which can be released to do work. Food contains chemical potential energy, which when consumed and broken down allows organisms to do more work.

Electric potential energy arises when two charges are close enough to each other to exert either an attractive or repulsive force. For example, when two positive charges are brought close to each other, a repulsive force pushes them apart. But if the two charges are forced to move closer to each other, they develop an electric potential energy that is changed to work when the charges are released. The closer the charges are to each other, the higher the potential energy between them. Nuclear potential energy is the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom, which can be released when the nucleus is split in a nuclear reaction.