Free or Unresisted Expansion

Consider two vessels A and B which are connected to each other by a pipe and a valve. Vessel A is initially filled with a fluid at a certain pressure and B is completely evacuated. By opening the valve, the fluid in the vessel A will expand until it fills both vessels. This process is known as free or unresisted expansion. It is an irreversible process because it needs external work to be done to restore the fluid to its initial condition. Consider a system, consisting of both vessels which is perfectly thermally insulated. Apply the first law of thermodynamics to the system, i.e.

Q + W = U2 - U1

where indices 1 and 2 represent initial and final states.
Q = 0, because the thermal insulation will not allow any heat transfer between the system and the surroundings. W=0 because the boundaries of the system are not moved. The result will then be:


The free expansion process is adiabatic but irreversible. If the working fluid is a perfect gas, then U2=U1 is equivalent to T2=T1.
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