New type of fire hoped to make oil spill clean-up more efficient

Scientists at the University of Maryland, have discovered a new kind of fire dubbed the “blue whirl” set to improve the clean-up of oil spills. 

Currently one of the main methods to remediate oil spills in the ocean is to isolate the crude into a thick layer on the water’s surface and burn it, however this creates high levels of smoke, emissions, and is inefficient.

In contrast, the ‘blue whirls’ reportedly create almost no soot, release fewer emissions into the atmosphere, and are quieter and more stable than other fire whirls.

The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.

Co-author of the paper, Elaine Oran said, “Blue whirls evolve from traditional yellow fire whirls. The yellow colour is due to radiating soot particles, which form when there is not enough oxygen to burn the fuel completely.”

“Blue in the whirl indicates there is enough oxygen for complete combustion, which means less or no soot, and is therefore a cleaner burn.”

Assistant professor of fire protection engineering and another co-author, Michael Gollner, said the whirls are more efficient than other types of combustion.

“Fire whirls are more efficient than other forms of combustion because they produce drastically increased heating to the surface of fuels, allowing them to burn faster and more completely.

“In our experiments over water, we’ve seen how the circulation fire whirls generate also helps to pull in fuels. If we can achieve a state akin to the blue whirl at larger scale, we can further reduce airborne emissions for a much cleaner means of spill clean-up.”

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