A mass balance, also called a material balance, is an application of conservation of mass to the analysis of physical systems. By accounting for material entering and leaving a system, mass flows can be identified which might have been unknown, or difficult to measure without this technique. The exact conservation law used in the analysis of the system depends on the context of the problem, but all revolve around mass conservation, i.e., that matter cannot disappear or be created spontaneously.: 59–62
Therefore, mass balances are used widely in engineering and environmental analyses. For example, mass balance theory is used to design chemical reactors, to analyse alternative processes to produce chemicals, as well as to model pollution dispersion and other processes of physical systems. Closely related and complementary analysis techniques include the population balance, energy balance and the somewhat more complex entropy balance. These techniques are required for thorough design and analysis of systems such as the refrigeration cycle.
In environmental monitoring the term budget calculations is used to describe mass balance equations where they are used to evaluate the monitoring data (comparing input and output, etc.). In biology the dynamic energy budget theory for metabolic organisation makes explicit use of mass and energy balance.