A thermodynamic cycle is a series of thermodynamic processes transferring heat and work, while varying pressure, temperature, and other state variables, eventually returning a system to its initial state. State Properties depend only on the thermodynamic state and cumulative variation of such properties add up to zero. Path Quantities, such as heat and work are process dependent, and cumulative heat and work are nonzero. The first law of thermodynamics dictates that the net heat input is equal to the net work output over any cycle. The repeating nature of the process path allows for continuous operation, making the cycle an important concept in thermodynamics. Thermodynamic cycles often use quasistatic processes to model the workings of actual devices.
A thermodynamic cycle is a closed loop on a PV diagram. A PV diagram's Y axis shows pressure (P) and X axis shows volume (V). The area enclosed by the loop is the work (W) done by the process:
This work is equal to the balance of heat (Q) transferred into the system:
Equation (2) makes a cyclic process similar to an isothermal process: even though the internal energy changes during the course of the cyclic process, when the cyclic process finishes the system's energy is the same as the energy it had when the process began.
If the cyclic process moves clockwise around the loop, then it represents a heat engine, and W will be positive. If it moves counterclockwise then it represents a heat pump, and W will be negative.
Contents 
Two primary classes of thermodynamic cycles are power cycles and heat pump cycles. Power cycles are cycles which convert some heat input into a mechanical work output, while heat pump cycles transfer heat from low to high temperatures using mechanical work input. Cycles composed entirely of quasistatic processes can operate as power or heat pump cycles by controlling the process direction. On a pressurevolume or Temperatureentropy diagram, the clockwise and counterclockwise directions indicate power and heat pump cycles, respectively.
Thermodynamic power cycles are the basis for the operation of heat engines, which supply most of the world's electric power and run almost all motor vehicles. Power cycles can be divided according to the type of heat engine they seek to model. The most common cycles that model internal combustion engines are the Otto cycle, which models gasoline engines and the Diesel cycle, which models diesel engines. Cycles that model external combustion engines include the Brayton cycle, which models gas turbines, and the Rankine cycle, which models steam turbines.
For example the pressurevolume mechanical work done in the heat engine cycle, consisting of 4 thermodynamic processes, is:
If no volume change happens in process 4>1 and 2>3, equation (3) simplifies to:
Thermodynamic heat pump and refrigeration cycles are the models for heat pumps and refrigerators. The difference between the two is that heat pumps are intended to keep a place warm while refrigerators are designed to cool it. The most common refrigeration cycle is the vapor compression cycle, which models systems using refrigerants that change phase. The absorption refrigeration cycle is an alternative that absorbs the refrigerant in a liquid solution rather than evaporating it. Gas refrigeration cycles include the reversed Brayton cycle and the HampsonLinde cycle. Regeneration in gas refrigeration allows for the liquefaction of gases.
A thermodynamic cycle can (ideally) be made out of 3 or more thermodynamic processes (typical 4). The processes can be any of these:
Some examples are as follows:
Cycle\Process  Compression  Heat Addition  Expansion  Heat Rejection. 

Power cycles normally with external combustion  or heat pump cycles  
Ericsson
(First, 1833) Brayton 
adiabatic  isobaric  adiabatic  isobaric 
Bell Coleman (Reverse Brayton) 
adiabatic  isobaric  adiabatic  isobaric 
Carnot  isentropic  isothermal  isentropic  isothermal 
Stoddard  adiabatic  isometric  adiabatic  isometric 
Stirling  isothermal  isometric  isothermal  isometric 
Ericsson (Second, 1853)  isothermal  isobaric  isothermal  isobaric 
Power cycles normally with internal combustion  
Otto (Petrol)  adiabatic  isometric  adiabatic  isometric 
Diesel  adiabatic  isobaric  adiabatic  isometric 
Brayton (Jet)  adiabatic  isobaric  adiabatic  isobaric 
Lenoir (pulse
jet) (Note: 3 of the 4 processes are different) 
isobaric  isometric  adiabatic  isobaric 
The Carnot cycle is a cycle composed of the totally reversible processes of isentropic compression and expansion and isothermal heat addition and rejection. The thermal efficiency of a Carnot cycle depends only on the temperatures in kelvins of the two reservoirs in which heat transfer takes place, and for a power cycle is:
where T_{L} is the lowest cycle temperature and T_{H} the highest. For Carnot refrigeration cycles the coefficient of performance for a heat pump is:
and for a refrigerator the coefficient of performance is:
The second law of thermodynamics limits the efficiency and COP for all cyclic devices to levels at or below the Carnot efficiency. The Stirling cycle and Ericsson cycle are two other reversible cycles that use regeneration to obtain isothermal heat transfer.
An ideal cycle is constructed out of:
An Otto cycle is constructed out of:
The adiabatic processes are impermeable to heat: heat flows into the loop through the left pressurizing process and some of it flows back out through the right depressurizing process, and the heat which remains does the work.
A Stirling cycle is like an Otto cycle, except that the adiabats are replaced by isotherms.
Heat flows into the loop through the top isotherm and the left isochore, and some of this heat flows back out through the bottom isotherm and the right isochore, but most of the heat flow is through the pair of isotherms. This makes sense since all the work done by the cycle is done by the pair of isothermal processes, which are described by Q=W. This suggests that all the net heat comes in through the top isotherm. In fact, all of the heat which comes in through the left isochore comes out through the right isochore: since the top isotherm is all at the same warmer temperature T_{H} and the bottom isotherm is all at the same cooler temperature T_{C}, and since change in energy for an isochore is proportional to change in temperature, then all of the heat coming in through the left isochore is cancelled out exactly by the heat going out the right isochore.
If Z is a state function then the balance of Z remains unchanged during a cyclic process:
Entropy is a state function and is defined as
so that
then it is clear that for any cyclic process,
meaning that the net entropy change over a cycle is 0.

Educational software links:
A thermodynamic cycle is a series of thermodynamic processes which returns a system to its initial state. Properties depend only on the thermodynamic state and thus do not change over a cycle. Variables such as heat and work are not zero over a cycle, but rather depend on the process. The first law of thermodynamics dictates that the net heat input is equal to the net work output over any cycle. The repeating nature of the process path allows for continuous operation, making the cycle an important concept in thermodynamics.
If the cyclic process moves clockwise around the loop, then it represents a heat engine, and W will be positive. If it moves counterclockwise then it represents a heat pump, and W will be negative.
Contents 
Two primary classes of thermodynamic cycles are power cycles and heat pump cycles. Power cycles are cycles which convert some heat input into a mechanical work output, while heat pump cycles transfer heat from low to high temperatures using mechanical work input.
Thermodynamic power cycles are the basis for the operation of heat engines, which supply most of the world's electric power and run almost all motor vehicles. Power cycles can be divided according to the type of heat engine they seek to model. The most common cycles that model internal combustion engines are the Otto cycle, which models gasoline engines and the Diesel cycle, which models diesel engines. Cycles that model external combustion engines include the Brayton cycle, which models gas turbines, and the Rankine cycle, which models steam turbines.
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