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Blue Whirls: New Kind of Fire Tornado Could Make Cleaning Oil Spills Cleaner


blue-whirl-2Weather disasters are fascinating and frightening. The fire tornado is no exception.

A difficult weather condition to control, a research team at the University of Maryland decided to look into ways of reducing its disaster component.

The team discovered a fire tornado that manifests as blue whirls.

Michael Gollner, a co-author of the study remarked, “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. This is the first time fire whirls have been studied for their practical applications.”

The research team observed blue whirls while studying regular fire tornadoes and how they burn fuel on the surface of the water.

It is hoped that blue whirls could burn off oil spills at a lower cost of airborne pollutants.

Co-author of the paper Elaine Oran explained, “Blue whirls evolve from traditional yellow fire whirls. The yellow color 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.”

The higher stability of blue whirls allows them to produce lower emissions than the destructive yellow tornado.

“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,” says Gollner. “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 cleanup.”

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