Say you've got a closed (but very large) system with a hot and cold reservoir a la the Carnot cycle. You can add up the heat in the two reservoirs and find that the total amount never changes (because it's a closed system). But the system can do work on some component of itself by allowing the heat to flow between the reservoirs.

My question is this: how do you quantify the potential energy of a system in thermal disequilibrium?


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