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The Peon

How much overall energy is in a cell?

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I once read long ago that the average human cell contains enough stored energy, that if it were released all at once, it would create a massive explosion. Could we estimate the amount of energy (thermal, sound, mechanical energy) released if every bond in a human cell were broken all at once?

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If you wanted to break every bond in a cell, you would have to supply energy to break them.

There would be an absorption of energy, not a release.

The biggest human cells (egg cells) are about 100 µm across

To a good approximation they can be considered to be water.

100µm diameter means a volume of something like 10^-12 m^3

With water having a density of 1000 kg/m^3 that means the cell has a mass of something like

10^-9 Kg or a microgram,

The heat of formation of water is about -286 KJ/mole

A kg is about 56 moles so that's about

16000 KJ/Kg

or about 0.016 Joules of energy.


By comparison, the energy released by the "pop!" you get from a test tube full of hydrogen is the result of burning about 10 ml of hydrogen

The density of hydrogen is of the order of 0.1 mg per ml

so 10 ml of it will be about 1 mg

On burning that will give something like 10 mg of water.

By the same sort of calculation as given above for the cell, producing 10 mg of water will release about ten thousand times more energy.


If you could persuade the hydrogen in that cell to fuse to give helium (nobody knows how to do that) it would release something like a million times as much energy.

That would give something like 16 KJ

About a quarter of the energy I get from eating a chocolate biscuit.


So, what you read was seriously utterly wrong.

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Thanks for the breakdown! I have 8 months of Chemistry coming up, I am really looking forward to it.

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