List of Topics

SfC Home > Physics > Thermal Energy >


Thermal Potential Energy

by Ron Kurtus (revised 19 January 2019)

Thermal potential energy is the potential energy at the atomic and molecular levels that has the potential of becoming thermal kinetic energy or related forms of energy. It is different than the large-scale potential energy of the whole object.

The combination of thermal potential energy and thermal kinetic energy results in the internal energy of an object.

Common types of thermal potential energy are chemical bonds, electrostatic or intermolecular forces, and nuclear bonds.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion

Chemical potential energy

Many molecules are held together by chemical bonds that can be a thermal potential energy.

Exothermic chemical reactions, such as oxidation, convert the potential energy of the materials into thermal kinetic energy, thus increasing the resulting temperature. For example, when a piece of paper burns, the oxidation process turns the thermal potential energy into thermal kinetic energy.

Nuclear potential energy

Some atoms—especially at the higher end of the Periodic Table—have the potential of decaying into other particles. These radioactive nuclear reactions, give off radiation and high-speed particles that increase the thermal kinetic energy and thus the temperature of a material.

Intermolecular potential energy

Molecules in a liquid or solid are held together by electrostatic or intermolecular forces. Heating the substance—or transferring thermal energy—can overcome those forces, allowing the material to change its phase or state (liquid to gas or solid to liquid). and thus creating thermal kinetic energy. Intermolecular potential energy can also be considered latent potential energy.


Thermal potential energy is potential energy at the atomic and molecular levels, where it has the potential of becoming kinetic energy or related forms of energy. Common types of thermal potential energy are chemical bonds, electrostatic or intermolecular forces, and nuclear bonds.

Seek to do your best

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Physics Resources


Top-rated books on Energy Physics

Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.

Share this page

Click on a button to bookmark or share this page through Twitter, Facebook, email, or other services:


Students and researchers

The Web address of this page is:

Please include it as a link on your website or as a reference in your report, document, or thesis.

Copyright © Restrictions

Where are you now?

School for Champions

Physics topics

Thermal Potential Energy

Thermal Energy topics


Heat transfer

Thermal insulation


Let's make the world a better place

Be the best that you can be.

Use your knowledge and skills to help others succeed.

Don't be wasteful; protect our environment.

You CAN influence the world.

Live Your Life as a Champion:

Take care of your health

Seek knowledge and gain skills

Do excellent work

Be valuable to others

Have utmost character

Be a Champion!

The School for Champions helps you become the type of person who can be called a Champion.