In the words of Hank Green on the latest episode of SciShow News, “researchers from the University of Maryland have figured out how to make a flame that doesn’t leave behind any soot.” Soot contributes to climate change, acid rain, and a host of health problems in humans such as breathing issues, asthma, bronchitis, coronary heart disease, and even cancer in bad cases of exposure. So reducing it would be a really good thing for planet Earth.
First discovered as a destructive phenomenon in wildfires, fire whirls also known as fire tornadoes happen during a very intense wildfire when the wind hits the flames in just the right way to create a giant, unstoppable, vortex of flame. Being an inevitable part of nature, fire tornadoes have existed as an uncontrollable threat to property, life, and landscape since the beginning. However, it was only first discovered in thepeer-reviewed journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that the fire tornado burned almost soot free. Since then researchers have studied the phenomenon artificially and discovered the even more efficient blue form of the flame whirl they have since named ‘blue whirl’. The newly discovered blue whirl burns cleaner; for reduced emissions and pollution. Researchers have been recreating the effect in an controlled environment and continue to study its make-up, effects, and controlability with promising implications.
A blue whirling fire means that the fire has enough oxygen in it to burn its fuel to complete combustion. The make-up of fuel for a fire is anything fire can burn, from crude oil to wood, all of these fuel sources create soot when consumed by flames. Normal yellow and orange fire doesn’t have enough oxygen to burn its fire to complete combustion and so leaves that left over fuel behind in the form of soot.
Researchers believe that with more research we could learn to harness this dangerous and daunting blue tornado flame, just like how we harnessed an equally daunting energy source, electricity. Once harnessed this cleaner energy source could be used to clean oil spills, and reduce emissions from cars and other flame sources of energy.
- Huahua Xiao, Michael J. Gollner, Elaine S. Oran. From fire whirls to blue whirls and combustion with reduced pollution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201605860 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1605860113