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Physics  2009 

Thermodynamics of non-equilibrium steady states

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Abstract:

We consider the problem of constructing a thermodynamic theory of non-equilibrium steady states as a formal extension of the equilibrium theory. Specifically, studying a particular system, we attempt to construct a phenomenological theory describing the interplay between heat and mechanical work that takes place during operations through which the system undergoes transitions between non-equilibrium steady states. We find that, in contrast to the case of the equilibrium theory, apparently, there exists no systematic way within a phenomenological formulation to describe the work done by the system during such operations. With this observation, we conclude that the attempt to construct a thermodynamic theory of non-equilibrium steady states in analogy to the equilibrium theory has limited prospects for success and that the pursuit of such a theory should be directed elsewhere.

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