The main thread that links classical thermodynamics and the thermodynamics of small quantum systems is the celebrated Clausius inequality form of the second law. However, its application to small quantum systems suffers from two cardinal problems. (i) The Clausius inequality does not hold when the system and environment are initially correlated - a commonly encountered scenario in microscopic setups. (ii) In some other cases, the Clausius inequality does not provide any useful information (e.g., in dephasing scenarios). We address these deficiencies by developing the notion of global passivity and employing it as a tool for deriving thermodynamic inequalities on observables. For initially uncorrelated thermal environments the global passivity framework recovers the Clausius inequality. More generally, global passivity provides an extension of the Clausius inequality that holds even in the presences of strong initial system-environment correlations. Crucially, the present framework provides additional thermodynamic bounds on expectation values. To illustrate the role of the additional bounds, we use them to detect unaccounted heat leaks and weak feedback operations ("Maxwell demons") that the Clausius inequality cannot detect. In addition, it is shown that global passivity can put practical upper and lower bounds on the buildup of system-environment correlations for dephasing interactions. Our findings are highly relevant for experiments in various systems such as ion traps, superconducting circuits, atoms in optical cavities, and more.
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© 2018 authors. Published by the American Physical Society.