Quantum thermodynamic Carnot and Otto-like cycles for a two-level system
Università di Brescia - via Branze 38, 25123 Brescia, Italy, EU
Received: 24 January 2012
Accepted: 26 June 2012
Within the recent revival of interest in quantum heat engines between two thermal reservoirs whereby the working substance is a two-level system, it has been suggested that the celebrated Carnot heat-to-work conversion efficiency 1 − (Tlow/Thigh) cannot be reached. Contrary to this suggestion, we show that reaching the Carnot bound not only is not impossible and does not require an infinite number of heat baths and infinitesimal processes, but it is also within reach of the current experimental techniques. It is sufficient to cycle smoothly (slowly) over at least three (in general four) values of the tunable energy level gap Δ of the system, by varying Δ not only along the isoentropics, but also along the isotherms. This is possible by means of the recently suggested maser-laser tandem technique. We base our proof on the general thermodynamic equilibrium properties of a two-level system together with a careful distinction between the Gibbs relation dE = T dS + (E/Δ) dΔ and the energy balance equation . We derive bounds to the net-work to high-temperature-heat ratio (energy efficiency) for a Carnot cycle and for the “inscribed” Otto-like cycle. By representing these cycles on useful thermodynamic diagrams, we infer and confirm important aspects of the second law of thermodynamics.
PACS: 05.70.-a – Thermodynamics / 03.65.-w – Quantum mechanics
© EPLA, 2012