Joule-Thomson Effect

Team Physics -
Created by: Team Physics -, Last Updated: May 20, 2024

Joule-Thomson Effect

The Joule-Thomson Effect describes the change in temperature of a real gas or liquid when it is forced through a valve or porous plug while kept insulated so that no heat is exchanged with the environment. This effect is significant in thermodynamics and has practical applications in refrigeration and liquefaction of gases.

What is Joule-Thomson Effect?

The Joule-Thomson Effect refers to the temperature change experienced by a real gas when it is allowed to expand freely through a valve or a porous plug, without any heat exchange with the environment (adiabatic process). This effect is important in understanding the behavior of gases under different conditions and is widely used in refrigeration and gas liquefaction.

According to thermodynamic principles, we can best understand the Joule-Thomson effect by considering a gas packet moving against the flow through a restriction. The upstream gas must perform work to push the gas packet forward through this restriction. This work equals the product of the gas packet’s volume and the upstream pressure.

π‘Šβ‚ = π‘‰β‚šβ‚κœ€β‚–β‚‘β‚œ ₁ ×𝑃₁

As the gas packet moves through the restriction, it needs to create space by displacing some of the downstream gas. This involves performing work that is the product of the packet volume and the downstream pressure.

π‘Šβ‚‚ = π‘‰β‚šβ‚κœ€β‚–β‚‘β‚œ ₂×𝑃₂

Due to varying compressibility effects, real gases do not have equal work done upstream and downstream. Since this depressurization is an adiabatic process, the system does not exchange heat with the surroundings. Thus, the change in internal energy must adhere to the first law of thermodynamics.


Gas molecules experience both repulsive and attractive forces (Van der Waals forces) as they are in constant motion. When the gas pressure is reduced, the average distance between the molecules increases, causing the attractive forces to dominate for many gases at room temperature. This dominance results in an increase in potential energy.

Most real gases require more work downstream at ambient temperatures due to compressibility effects.


This indicates that the internal energy decreases when the gas moves through the restriction.

Generally, for many real gases, the temperature decreases during a pressure drop. However, this is not universal for all gases and conditions. Since the process is isenthalpic (constant enthalpy), the temperature can either decrease or increase depending on how the internal energy changes to maintain constant enthalpy.

Joule-Thomson Effect

Joule Thomson Coefficient

The Joule-Thomson coefficient πœ‡β±Όβ‚œ is defined as the rate of change of temperature 𝑇 with respect to pressure P during a constant enthalpy process:

πœ‡β±Όβ‚œ = (βˆ‚π‘‡/βˆ‚π‘ƒ)𝐻

The following table explains when the Joule-Thomson effect cools or warms a real gas:

If the gas temperature isthen πœ‡β±Όβ‚œβ€‹ issince βˆ‚P isthus βˆ‚π‘‡ must beSo the gas
above the inversion temperaturenegativealways negativepositivewarms
below the inversion temperaturepositivealways negativenegativecools

Derivation of Joule-Thomson Effect

The Joule-Thomson coefficient can be derived using thermodynamic relationships and is defined as the change in temperature during an isenthalpic process (constant enthalpy) due to a pressure drop:

πœ‡ = (βˆ‚π‘‡/βˆ‚π‘ƒ)𝐻​

Applying the cyclic rule of partial derivatives:

(βˆ‚π‘‡/βˆ‚π‘ƒ)β‚•(βˆ‚π‘ƒ/βˆ‚π»)β‚œ(βˆ‚π»/βˆ‚π‘‡)β‚š = βˆ’1


(βˆ‚π‘ƒβˆ‚π»)β‚œ = βˆ’(βˆ‚π»βˆ‚π‘ƒ)β»ΒΉβ‚œ

It follows that:

(βˆ‚π‘‡/βˆ‚π‘ƒ)β‚• = βˆ’(βˆ‚π»/βˆ‚π‘ƒ)β‚œ(βˆ‚π‘‡/βˆ‚π»)β‚š


(βˆ‚π»/βˆ‚π‘‡)β‚š = 𝐢𝑝​


πœ‡ = 1/𝐢𝑝[𝑇(βˆ‚π‘£Λ‰/βˆ‚π‘‡)β‚šβˆ’π‘£Λ‰ ]

Where 𝑣ˉ is the molar volume and πΆβ‚šβ€‹ is the heat capacity at constant pressure. For real gases, this is further expressed as:


This isenthalpic process, described in terms of pressure, temperature, and volume, demonstrates how the Joule-Thomson coefficient relates to the physical properties of the gas.

Temperature Inversion

Temperature Inversion Curve

The inversion temperature is the temperature of a gas at which reducing the pressure does not change the temperature. Above this temperature, the gas heats up during expansion, while below this temperature, the gas cools down during expansion.

Uses of Joule-Thomson Effect

Uses of Joule-Thomson Effect
  • Refrigeration and Liquefaction: You use the Joule-Thomson effect to cool gases in refrigeration systems. By forcing a gas through a throttle, you cause it to expand and cool, which is essential for liquefying gases like oxygen, nitrogen, and natural gas.
  • Air Conditioning Systems: You apply the Joule-Thomson effect in air conditioning systems. By allowing refrigerants to expand through a throttle or expansion valve, you achieve the cooling necessary to lower the air temperature in buildings and vehicles.
  • Natural Gas Processing: You utilize the Joule-Thomson effect in natural gas processing to remove condensable hydrocarbons. By expanding the natural gas through a valve, you cause it to cool, which leads to the condensation of heavier hydrocarbons, making it easier to separate and purify the gas.
  • Hydrogen Production and Storage: You use the Joule-Thomson effect to liquefy hydrogen for storage and transport. By forcing hydrogen gas through an expansion valve, you reduce its temperature significantly, enabling it to reach the liquefaction point.
  • Gas Pressure Regulation: You apply the Joule-Thomson effect in gas pressure regulators. As gas expands through the regulator, its temperature changes, which is crucial for maintaining stable pressure and temperature conditions in various industrial processes.
  • Cryogenics: You exploit the Joule-Thomson effect in cryogenic applications to achieve extremely low temperatures. By expanding gases like helium and nitrogen, you produce the cooling necessary for scientific research, including superconductivity studies and the preservation of biological samples.

Examples for Joule-Thomson Effect

  1. Refrigeration and Air Conditioning: In refrigeration systems, you use the Joule-Thomson effect to cool refrigerants. When a high-pressure refrigerant expands through an expansion valve, it undergoes a temperature drop.
  2. Liquefaction of Gases: You apply the Joule-Thomson effect to liquefy gases like oxygen, nitrogen, and natural gas. By forcing these gases through a valve under high pressure and then allowing them to expand, you achieve the cooling required for their liquefaction.
  3. Natural Gas Processing: In natural gas plants, you use the Joule-Thomson effect to remove heavier hydrocarbons from natural gas. By expanding the gas through a valve, you cool it, causing heavier hydrocarbons to condense. This separation process is vital for producing clean, dry natural gas.
  4. Hydrogen Production and Storage: You employ the Joule-Thomson effect to liquefy hydrogen for storage and transportation. By expanding hydrogen gas through an expansion valve, you achieve the low temperatures necessary for liquefaction. This is critical for the efficient storage and transport of hydrogen as a fuel.
  5. Cryogenic Applications: In cryogenics, you use the Joule-Thomson effect to reach extremely low temperatures. For example, you can cool helium gas by expanding it through a throttle to achieve the temperatures needed for superconductivity research or the preservation of biological samples.
  6. Gas Pressure Regulation: You utilize the Joule-Thomson effect in gas pressure regulators. As gas expands through a pressure regulator, its temperature changes. This temperature change helps maintain stable pressure and temperature conditions in various industrial applications, ensuring safe and efficient operations.
  7. Thermodynamic Studies: Researchers use the Joule-Thomson effect to study the thermodynamic properties of gases. By observing how gases respond to expansion and cooling, scientists gain insights into their intermolecular forces and behavior under different conditions, enhancing our understanding of gas dynamics.
  8. Heat Pumps: In heat pumps, you use the Joule-Thomson effect to transfer heat from one place to another. By expanding the working fluid through an expansion valve, you achieve the cooling needed to absorb heat from the environment, which is then released at a different location.


Who discovered the Joule-Thomson effect?

James Prescott Joule and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) discovered the Joule-Thomson effect in the 1850s.

How does the Joule-Thomson effect occur?

The effect occurs during gas expansion or compression through a porous plug or valve without heat exchange.

What determines the temperature change in the Joule-Thomson effect?

The temperature change depends on the initial temperature and the specific properties of the gas.

What is the Joule-Thomson coefficient?

The Joule-Thomson coefficient measures the change in temperature per unit change in pressure during a throttling process.

Do all gases cool upon expansion?

No, gases cool or warm upon expansion depending on their initial temperature and Joule-Thomson coefficient.

What role does pressure play in the Joule-Thomson effect?

Pressure differences drive the expansion or compression that causes the temperature change in the Joule-Thomson effect.

Is the Joule-Thomson effect observed in liquids?

The effect is primarily observed in gases, as liquids have incompressible properties that prevent similar behavior.

What is an inversion temperature in the Joule-Thomson effect?

The inversion temperature is the temperature at which a gas neither cools nor warms during expansion.

What gases exhibit significant Joule-Thomson cooling?

Gases like nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide exhibit significant cooling below their inversion temperatures.

What scientific principle underlies the Joule-Thomson effect?

The first law of thermodynamics, involving energy conservation, underlies the Joule-Thomson effect.

AI Generator

Text prompt

Add Tone

10 Examples of Public speaking

20 Examples of Gas lighting