# British thermal unit

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The British thermal unit (BTU or Btu) is a unit of heat; it is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. It is also part of the United States customary units. [1] Heat is now known to be equivalent to energy. The modern SI unit for heat and energy is the joule (J); one BTU equals about 1,055  J (varying within the range 1,054–1,060 J depending on the specific definition; see below).

## Contents

Another legacy unit for energy in the metric system is the calorie, which is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. [2] While units of heat are often supplanted by energy units in scientific work, they are still used in some fields. For example, in the United States the price of natural gas is quoted in dollars per million BTUs. [3] [4]

## Definitions

A BTU was originally defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 avoirdupois pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit at a constant pressure of one atmospheric unit. [5] There are several different definitions of the BTU that are now known to differ slightly. This reflects the fact that the temperature change of a mass of water due to the addition of a specific amount of heat (calculated in energy units, usually joules) depends slightly upon the water's initial temperature. As seen in the table below, definitions of the BTU based on different water temperatures vary by up to 0.5%.

VariantEnergy (J)Notes
Thermochemical≈1,054.3503Originally, the thermochemical BTU was defined as the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water from its freezing point to its boiling point, divided by the temperature difference (180°F). The similar, thermochemical calorie was defined as the heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water from freezing to boiling divided by the temperature difference in Celsius (100°C). The International Standards Organization now redefines the thermochemical calorie as exactly 4.184 J. [5] The thermochemical BTU is then defined using the conversions from grams to pounds and from Celsius to Fahrenheit. [6]
59 °F (15.0 °C)≈1,054.80 [7] Used for American natural gas pricing. [4]
60 °F (15.6 °C)≈1,054.68 [8] Mainly Canadian.[ citation needed ]
39 °F (3.9 °C)≈1,059.67 [8] Uses the calorie value of water at its maximum density (4 °C, 39.2 °F).[ citation needed ]
IT≈1,055.05585An early effort to define heat units directly in terms of energy units, and hence to remove the direct association with the properties of water, was taken by the International Steam Table Conferences. These conferences originally adopted the simplified definition that 860 "IT" calories corresponded to exactly 1 international watt-hour (not the same as a modern watt-hour). This definition ultimately became the statement that 1 IT calorie is exactly 4.1868 J. [5] [9] The BTU is then calculated from the calorie as is done for the thermochemical definitions of the BTU and the calorie. [6]
ISO ≡1,055.06 International standard ISO 31-4 on Quantities and units—Part 4: Heat. [10] This value uses the IT calorie and is rounded to a realistic precision.

### Prefixes

Units kBtu are used in building energy use tracking and heating system sizing. Energy Use Index (EUI) represents kBtu per square foot of conditioned floor area. "k" stands for 1,000.

The unit MBTU is used in natural gas and other industries to indicate 1,000 BTUs. [11] [12] However, there is an ambiguity in that the metric system (SI) uses the prefix "M" to indicate one million (1,000,000), and consequently "MMBtu" is often used to indicate one million BTUs. [13]

Energy analysts accustomed to the metric "k" for 1,000 are more likely to use MBtu to represent one million, especially in documents where M represents one million in other energy or cost units, such as MW, MWh and \$.

The unit therm is used to represent 100,000 BTUs. [11] A decatherm is 10 therms or one MMBtu (million Btu). The unit quad is commonly used to represent one quadrillion (1015) BTUs. [13]

## Conversions

One Btu is approximately:

A Btu can be approximated as the heat produced by burning a single wooden kitchen match or as the amount of energy it takes to lift a one-pound (0.45 kg) weight 778 feet (237 m). [14]

### For natural gas

• In natural gas pricing, the Canadian definition is that 1000000 Btu1.054615 GJ. [15]
• The energy content (high or low heating value) of a volume of natural gas varies with the composition of the natural gas, which means there is no universal conversion factor for energy to volume. 1 cubic foot (28 litres) of average natural gas yields ≈ 1030 Btu (between 1010 Btu and 1070 Btu, depending on quality, when burned)
• As a coarse approximation, 1,000 cubic feet (28 m3) of natural gas yields ≈ 1000000 Btu1 GJ.
• For natural gas price conversion 1000 m3 ≈ 36.9 million Btu and 1000000 Btu27.1 m3

### BTU/h

The SI unit of power for heating and cooling systems is the watt. Btu per hour (Btu/h) is sometimes used in North America, though "Btu/h" is sometimes abbreviated to just "Btu". [16] MBH—thousands of Btus per hour—is also common. [17]

• 1 W is approximately 3.412142 Btu/h [18]
• 1,000 Btu/h is approximately 293.1 W
• 1 hp is approximately 2,544 Btu/h

## Associated units

• 1 ton of cooling , a common unit in North American refrigeration and air conditioning applications, is 12,000 Btu/h (3.52 kW). It is the rate of heat transfer needed to freeze 1 short ton (907 kg) of water into ice in 24 hours.
• In the United States and Canada, the R-value that describes the performance of thermal insulation is typically quoted in square foot degree Fahrenheit hours per British thermal unit (ft2⋅°F⋅h/Btu). For one square foot of the insulation, one BTU per hour of heat flows across the insulator for each degree of temperature difference across it.
• 1 therm is defined in the United States and European Union as 100,000 Btu—but the U.S. uses the Btu59 °F while the EU uses the BtuIT. United Kingdom regulations were amended to replace therms with joules with effect from 1 January 2000. [19] As of 2013 the therm is still used in natural gas pricing in the United Kingdom. [20]
• 1 quad (short for quadrillion  Btu) is 1015 Btu, which is about 1 exajoule (1.055×1018 J). Quads are used in the United States for representing the annual energy consumption of large economies: for example, the U.S. economy used 99.75 quads in 2005. [21] One quad/year is about 33.43 gigawatts.

The Btu should not be confused with the Board of Trade Unit (B.O.T.U.), an obsolete UK synonym for kilowatt hour (1 kW⋅h or 3,412 Btu).

The Btu is often used to express the conversion-efficiency of heat into electrical energy in power plants. Figures are quoted in terms of the quantity of heat in Btu required to generate 1 kW⋅h of electrical energy. A typical coal-fired power plant works at 10,500 Btu/kWh (3.1 kWh/kWh), an efficiency of 32–33%. [22]

The centigrade heat unit (CHU) is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one Celsius degree. It is equal to 1.8 BTU or 1,899 joules. [23] In 1974, this unit was "still sometimes used" in the United Kingdom as an alternative to BTU. [24]

## Related Research Articles

The joule is a derived unit of energy in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy transferred to an object when a force of one newton acts on that object in the direction of the force's motion through a distance of one metre. It is also the energy dissipated as heat when an electric current of one ampere passes through a resistance of one ohm for one second. It is named after the English physicist James Prescott Joule (1818–1889).

In thermodynamics, the specific heat capacity or occasionally massic heat capacity of a substance is the heat capacity of a sample of the substance divided by the mass of the sample. Informally, it is the amount of energy that must be added, in the form of heat, to one unit of mass of the substance in order to cause an increase of one unit in temperature. The SI unit of specific heat capacity is joule per kelvin per kilogram, J⋅kg−1⋅K−1. For example, the heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water by 1 K is 4184 joules so the specific heat capacity of water is 4184 J⋅kg−1⋅K−1.

James Prescott Joule was an English physicist, mathematician and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work. This led to the law of conservation of energy, which in turn led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. The SI derived unit of energy, the joule, is named after him.

In thermodynamics, the Joule–Thomson effect describes the temperature change of a real gas or liquid when it is forced through a valve or porous plug while keeping it insulated so that no heat is exchanged with the environment. This procedure is called a throttling process or Joule–Thomson process. At room temperature, all gases except hydrogen, helium, and neon cool upon expansion by the Joule–Thomson process when being throttled through an orifice; these three gases experience the same effect but only at lower temperatures. Most liquids such as hydraulic oils will be warmed by the Joule–Thomson throttling process.

Latent heat is energy released or absorbed, by a body or a thermodynamic system, during a constant-temperature process — usually a first-order phase transition.

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The barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) is a unit of energy based on the approximate energy released by burning one barrel of crude oil. The BOE is used by oil and gas companies in their financial statements as a way of combining oil and natural gas reserves and production into a single measure, although this energy equivalence does not take into account the lower financial value of energy in the form of gas.

The therm is a non-SI unit of heat energy equal to 100000 British thermal units (Btu). It is approximately the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet – often referred to as 1 CCF – of natural gas.

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## References

1. In a short note, Woledge notes that the actual technical term "British thermal unit" apparently originated in the United States, and was subsequently adopted in Great Britain. See Woledge, G. (30 May 1942). "History of the British Thermal Unit". Nature. 149 (149): 613. Bibcode:1942Natur.149..613W. doi:10.1038/149613c0.
2. Hargrove, James L. (2007). "Does the history of food energy units suggest a solution to 'Calorie confusion'?". Nutrition Journal. 6: 44. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-6-44. PMC  . PMID   18086303. Archived from the original on 1 August 2017.
3. "Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price". U.S. Energy Information Administration. Archived from the original on 1 August 2017.
4. The BTU used in American natural gas pricing is "the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 avoirdupois pound of pure water from 58.5 degrees Fahrenheit to 59.5 degrees Fahrenheit at a constant pressure of 14.73 pounds per square inch." See "Chapter 220: Henry Hub Natural Gas Futures" (PDF). NYMex Rulebook. New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMex). Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 November 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
5. Smith, J. M.; Van Ness, H. C.; Abbott, M. M. (2003). Introduction to Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics. B. I. Bhatt (adaptation) (6 ed.). Tata McGraw-Hill Education. p. 15. ISBN   0-07-049486-X.
6. The pound is now defined as 453.59237 grams; see "Appendix C of NIST Handbook 44, Specifications, Tolerances, and Other Technical Requirements for Weighing and Measuring Devices, General Tables of Units of Measurement" (PDF). United States National Bureau of Standards. p. C-12. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 November 2006. One degree Fahrenheit is now defined as exactly 5/9 of a degree Celsius.
7. Thompson, Ambler; Taylor, Barry N. "Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI) 2008 Edition" (PDF). National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). p. 58. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 June 2016. NIST Special Publication 811.
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16. Ken Matesz (2010). Masonry Heaters: Designing, Building, and Living with a Piece of the Sun. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 148.
17. "What is difference between BTU and MBH for house furnaces?". Home Improvement Stack Exchange. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
18. [ "2009 ASHRAE Handbook – Fundamentals (I-P Edition)". Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015.? 2009 ASHRAE Handbook – Fundamentals (I-P Edition)]. (pp: 38.2). American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc
19. "The Units of Measurement Regulations 1995" . Retrieved 7 November 2019.
20. "The GB gas wholesale market". Office of Gas and Electricity Markets. Archived from the original on 30 September 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013. The wholesale gas market in Britain has one price for gas irrespective of where the gas comes from. This is called the National Balancing Point (NBP) price of gas and is usually quoted in price per therm of gas.
21. Husher, John Durbin (2009). Crises of the 21st Century: Start Drilling-The Year 2020 Is Coming Fast. iUniverse. p. 376. ISBN   9781440140549. OCLC   610004375..
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23. "Centigrade Heat Unit". Archived from the original on 25 December 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
24. BS 350: Part 1:1974 - Conversion factors and tables; Part 1. Basis of tables, Conversion factors. British Standards Institution. 1974. p. 59.