If you take a compressed metal spring and place it in a container of metal dissolving acid, what happens to the energy in the spring assuming the entire spring dissolves at one time? — BR, Mount Pleasant, SC
That energy becomes thermal energy in the metal/acid solution. Before the spring dissolves, the energy it stores is actually found in the forces between adjacent metal atoms. The crystals in the metal are slightly distorted, bringing the atoms in these crystals a little too close or a little too far from one another. Since each of these displaced atoms has a little extra potential energy, it is a little more chemically reactive than normal. When the acid attacks one of these atoms and pulls it away from the crystal, the atom comes away a little more easily than normal because it brings with it a little extra energy. This extra energy enters the solution, making the solution a little warmer than it would have become had the spring not been compressed.