How much energy would you need to bend the elements?
I’ve been having lots of trivial debates with my friends recently, and the one which has bothered me the most is how bending arts actually work. Just to clarify, we’re talking about bending from the Avatar: The Last Airbender / The Legend of Korra universe.
But take this entire article with a grain of salt. When my amigos and I discussed this, we were armed with the knowledge of year 12 chemistry, as well as uni-level biomedicine, engineering, science, and costume design.
While we had absolutely no idea how anyone could manipulate the elements, we did figure out how much energy is needed to change water to a solid or gas, as well as how much energy fire-benders use. So unfortunately, we’re not going to be talking about how earth and air-bending works because we be stupid.
How much energy would water benders use?
Water bending in style. Source: Playbuzz.
From my expert opinion, and that’s from having watched Aang at least four times and Korra three times, I think I can safely say that a master water-bender would be able to convert an entire Olympic-sized swimming pool into a solid chunk of ice. And using the power of science, we can actually figure out how much energy they’d need!
All we need to know is how much water we have, and using some other science mumbo jumbo (density, temperature, specific and latent heat of water) we can figure out the rest.
An Olympic swimming pool is 25m, by 50m by 2m, so that means we’re dealing with a total volume of 2,500 metres cubed, or 88,000 cu ft for our American friends (that’s the extent of how much Americanisation we’re going to use here because it’s bloody exhausting converting everything into the imperial system).
If there are 1000 litres of water in a volume of 1m3, then that comes up to 2.5 Million litres in one Olympic sized pool.
According to the Fédération internationale de natation or the International Swimming Federation, swimming pools need to be kept at 25-28oc.
Who knew that water could have mass right? We say that a bottle of water is around 700ml but that amount of water has physical mass (something you can put on a scale to say that that chicken and cheese burger I had last night was one too many).
Now thanks to the wonderful scientists out there, we know that 1ml of water weighs 1g and 1L of water weighs 1kg. This means that this Olympic sized pool weighs 2,500,000 kg of water.
Changing the temperature of water
Thanks once again to our science friends, they found out that to change the temperature of 1g of water by 1oc, you need 4.2 joules of energy (a joule is a unit of energy).
So to convert an Olympic sized swimming pool to a solid chunk of ice, the total amount of energy transferred would be equal to:
2,500,000,000g x 4.2j/g (specific heat of water) x 25 (to get from 25oc to 0oc), getting a total of 281,250,000kj.
Changing the water into ice
To make the chemistry a bit more confusing, all you’ve done at this point is cooled the water down to 0oc, but now you need even more energy to change the liquid water into solid water (ice).
Now we need to know about the latent heat of fusion, which is the amount of energy needed to make water to ice or ice to water at 0oc. This happens to be 334 joules per gram. So we multiply that number by the 2.5 billion grams of water in the swimming pool and get a whopping 835 million kj, just to make the water at 0oc to actual ice.
To put that in context, the recommended amount of energy an adult needs to eat in a day is only 8,700kj. So if an adult had 835 million kj to feed themselves daily, they could be fully fed for nearly 96,000 days. While that may not seem a lot, that comes up to 263 YEARS!
Fucking. Shit. Up.
If you want to make the swimming pool hotter, the energy needs to come from somewhere right? And that’s going to be from the bender, or the energy around the bender. But if you want to make the pool cooler, what you’ll find is that the pool is actually going to release energy. So as the pool gets colder, everything else gets hotter.
And in this case, it’s going to be a lot hotter than the European heatwave the Brits are complaining about. Seriously guys, come to Australia for a summer and we can have a nice laugh about how hot it can REALLY get.
So, to make the swimming pool into a block of ice, the water bender has two choices. They can either transfer all that energy into the surrounding environment, which would most likely create as much fire as my new mixtape (it’s a bad joke, but I’ll allow it). OR they can absorb the energy themselves, which quite frankly, in this author’s unprofessional opinion would make them go ‘Boom Boom, bye.’
Now if you think that it takes a lot of energy for a master water-bender to convert an entire pool into ice, it would take even more to make it into steam. And that energy is either coming from you or from the environment around you. Either way, the laws of nature and thermodynamics will not appreciate.
So, you can either get a giant battery to store all that energy for you, or you can get everything around you to burn up in flames. Or you could just work with smaller liquids? Like what Katara uses through the entire series.
Okay but fire-benders…
Now for the past several hours I’ve been trying to find out how much energy there is in a fireball. Unfortunately, the nature of fire is very fickle, and the amount of energy in a fire is dependent on its source. But, using the laws of thermodynamics, and the help of a man named Michael Benveniste, we’ve been able to figure it out!
Our friend Michael quotes straight from the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook, stating that a fireball has a 20 inch or 50 cm radius which can melt metals with low boiling points like lead, gold, silver, copper, or bronze.
So fire-benders who could create a fireball which is similar to the fireballs from Dungeons and Dragons, would essentially need to produce 1 billion kj of heat. And that’s not an exaggerated 1 billion kj of heat, that is a very literally 1 billion kj of heat. And I’m rounding down.
To fuel that kind of fire-power (see what I did there?), you would need 460 thousand Big Macs. So to fund the massive invasion of the Air Temples, the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes, you’d need to transfer something like an entire farm per fire-bender.
Or they could just have a lot of weaker fires, nothing to melt solid gold, but to be able to burn skin, which only needs to be above something like 40oc.
But yes, in a universe with a spirit world, flying bisons, cat owls, chicken pigs, lion-turtles, the ability to manipulate elements, and a reincarnation system which essentially proves the existence of the spirit, I talk about the unrealistic nature of the amounts of energy needed for bending…
Shut up, I know how petty I am.
So what are your thoughts on bending the elements? Do you reckon it’s possible? How much energy would be needed to actually manipulate the elements? If you’re as much of a fanatic as me, leave a comment down below!