Thermal Insulator vs Thermal Conductor
Thermal insulators and thermal conductors can be taken as two simple classifications of materials. Thermal insulation and thermal conduction are very important topics when it comes to the field of heat and thermodynamics. These concepts play a huge role in the fields of space exploration, industry, machinery, motor mechanics, electrical engineering, electronic equipment manufacturing, building design and architecture and even cooking. It is vital to have a good understanding of thermal conductance and thermal insulation in order to get a good understanding in these fields. In this article, we are going to discuss what thermal conductance and thermal insulation are, what thermal conductors and thermal insulators are, what are their similarities, what are the practical applications of these materials and finally their differences.
To understand what a thermal conductor is, we must first understand what thermal conduction is. Thermal conduction is the process of transferring thermal energy (heat) from one place to another due to a temperature gradient. For a thermal energy transfer, there must be a temperature gradient between the two points. The energy transfer is done until the temperatures are equal (i.e. the temperature gradient is zero). A thermal conductor is a material that would give a good thermal energy transfer rate due to any temperature gradient. Theoretically, a perfect thermal conductor will allow heat transfer even at zero temperature gradient and the time it take for the thermal equilibrium would be zero. But there are no perfect thermal conductors. Usually, metals are good thermal conductors, while plastics and polymers are not. But there are always exceptions. A radiator of a car consists of good thermal conductors. Thereby, maximizing the rate of energy output and keeping the engine cool. A cooking pan is made of thermal conductors to supply the maximum energy to the item being cooked. In electronic and electrical devices, components with high power output are protected by a heat sink, which will absorb the heat output from the component and release it into the air.
A perfect thermal insulator is a material that would not allow any thermal energy transfer due to any temperature gradient. A perfect thermal insulator would require an infinite time to come to thermal equilibrium. But in practice, a thermal insulator will always allow heat transfer but at a negligible rate. Most of the plastics and polymers are good thermal insulators. There are a lot of applications of thermal insulation. The passenger compartment of a car is mostly thermal insulated to avoid heat from outside and heat from the engine heating the inside. Special heat insulator bricks are fitted on the belly of the space shuttle in order to protect the interior from the heating in the reentry. A building, which is thermal insulated, can be very useful when it comes to the cost reduction, because it uses virtually zero energy to keep the building cool or hot.
What is the difference between Thermal Insulator and Conductor?
• Thermal insulators do not transfer energy, but thermal conductors do.
• Thermal insulators are mostly made up of large chains of molecules, which are unable to vibrate due to thermal energy, but most of the thermal conductors are made of single atoms or lattice shaped compounds, which are able to vibrate.