Electricity runs a huge number of devices, tools and other components that make modern life more efficient or more enjoyable. Part of the success of electrical devices is that electricity is a readily available form of energy; all that's needed is the right technology to convert the electrical energy into whatever type of energy is required for the device. This means that electrical energy may have to transform into heat, light, sound or movement, depending on its desired application. In the case of transforming electrical energy into movement, or mechanical energy, the process is usually done by means of a motor.
Basics of motors
A motor is a device that essentially takes energy and uses it to create either linear or rotating motion. A motor might use electrical energy, heat, gravitational force from the weight of something such as water or other such input energies to make parts move. The mechanical energy of this motion can then be used to power other types of machines.
How an electromagnet works
In the 1880s, Nikola Tesla decided that there must be a more efficient way to use electricity to produce mechanical energy than what the electrical motors of the time were able to do. He conducted experiments using coils of metal wire. When charged with electricity, these metal coils became magnetic. As long as the coils had electricity, they would draw other metals toward them. From this, the alternating current, or AC, induction motor was born.
Using electromagnets to transform energy
Most electrical motors work by means of a series of electromagnets, arranged in a circle. Motors are designed to charge these magnets in series, drawing the axle in a continuous circular motion. The amount of energy used will determine the speed and torque the axle has as it rotates.
Applying energy transformation in everyday life
Motors that transform electricity into mechanical energy are used throughout modern life. Possibly the easiest example is a fan, used to create air movement to cool down home interiors or to aid in ventilation. A basic fan is nothing more than an electric motor with blades on it. The motor turns the fan, and the wide, flat blades create the air movement. Fans are often created as standalone mechanisms, but are also cooling components in vehicles, computers and refrigeration devices.
While most motor vehicles involve burning gasoline to create motion, there are an increasing number of electrically powered cars or hybrids, which use both gasoline and electrical power in turns, appearing on the world's roadways. These work similarly to any other electric motors, except that they use some type of stored electricity in order to function.
Motors can also work in reverse. Wind turbines are an example of how mechanical energy produced by the wind can be converted to electrical energy. The turbine is essentially a large fan. Instead of powering its blades with electricity, it generates electricity from the push of wind on the blades. The blade shape ensures that the wind causes the turbine to rotate.