The University of Maryland’s’ scientists have discovered a new type of fire, which they have aptly named “Blue Whirl.” This new fire is small, whirling, transparent, and blue. It opens insights into new ways to use fire for cleaner burning, as well as opens up a wide range of potential applications, like cleaning up oil spills.
The new fire was discovered using the basic principles of how fire behaves in nature. In cases where hot air is rising from the ground quickly, a whirling and spinning circulation sometimes forms, much like a tornado. However, the air is not the only thing spinning, and the fire also gets pulled into the whirling mass. Some people might know fire whirls as fire devils or fire tornados.
Fire whirls tend to burn much faster and hotter than normal fires. In nature, fire whirls can be dangerous when they occur during wildfires. Fire whirls have also been known to form during chemical fires, too. It is this concept of the fire tornado that scientists examined in greater detail. What if the power of the fire tornado could be harnessed, much like electricity was?
Yellow and orange fire whirls are signs there is insufficient oxygen levels to fully burn the fuel. As a result, the combustion process is incomplete and allows soot, particles, and pollution to be released into the air. By introducing sufficient levels of oxygen, scientists have been able to evolve fires from the traditional orange and yellow fire whirls into blue whirls.
The blue flame signifies the right balance between oxygen and fuel. As a result, the fuel burns more efficiently with little to no pollutants, particles, or soot being released into the air. The blue whirl has only been created in the laboratory, as this is the first time fire whirls were studied for potential applications.
During their initial experiments, scientists accidently discovered blue whirls. Scientists were observing how fire whirls would behave over water when they noticed blue whirls forming. These blue fire tornadoes burned the fuel steadily and efficiently, leaving very few byproducts.
One practical application for blue whirls would be in the cleanup of oil and petroleum spills in the ocean or other bodies of water. For larger spills, they are enclosed using various methods and then set on fire. The fire releases smoke, pollutants, and other toxins into the air. With blue whirls, the process would be made cleaner and more efficient.
Since blue fire burns optimally, there would be fewer emissions released into the air; not to mention, the spill could be cleaned up faster. Scientists plan to continue to explore and discover other applications for blue whirls.
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