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Scientists just discovered a new kind of fire

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Scientists have discovered a new kind of ‘blue whirl’ flame that
could lead to cleaner ways of burning fuel, as well as helping in the
clean-up of oil spills. The refined flame is based on fire whirls,
which naturally occur when rising heat and turbulent winds combine to
create a thin tornado of flames. When creating fire whirls in the lab,
researchers happened upon their blue whirl flame, which has never before
been observed.
A fire protection engineer from University of Maryland said, “A fire tornado has long been seen as this incredibly scary, destructive
thing. But, like electricity, can you harness it for good? If we can
understand it, then maybe we can control and use it. 

Fire whirls are made up of a core flame surrounded by an invisible,
rotating column of air. They can occur naturally in wildfires and urban
fires, and could be the key to combatting oil spills, because of how
efficiently they can burn up fuel.
Having created their own simulated oil spill in the lab, the
researchers positioned a pair of quartz half-cylinders over the top to
pull up cold air and create a fire whirl. Unexpectedly, that whirl then
evolved into a quiet, pure blue flame.

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The Clark School team initially set out to investigate the combustion
and burning dynamics of fire whirls on water. What they discovered was a
novel, swirling blue flame that they say could help meet the growing
worldwide demand for high-efficiency, low-emission combustion.

“A fire tornado has long been seen as this incredibly scary,
destructive thing. But, like electricity, can you harness it for good?
If we can understand it, then maybe we can control and use it,” said
Michael Gollner, assistant professor of fire protection engineering and
co-author of the paper.

“This is the first time fire whirls have been studied for their practical applications,” Gollner added.

The colour is important: the yellow in a flame comes from radiating soot
particles, and shows there’s not enough oxygen to burn all of the
available fuel. Blue indicates that the fuel is being burned completely,
and that means lower carbon emissions.
This research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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