A fire tornado is pretty much as terrifying as it sounds, but researchers think they might be able to use these “fire whirls” for good.
A team of researchers at the University of Maryland say they’ve discovered a new type of fire tornado, dubbed a “blue whirl,” that could reduce carbon emissions and improve oil spill cleanup. Essentially, the “blue whirl” burns cleaner than a typical fire tornado, with almost no soot (hence the blue color, instead of yellow). The team published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“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,” Elaine Oran, Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering and co-author of the paper, said. “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 discovery came about while the team was researching the burning dynamics of “fire whirls” on water Instead, they realized this unique “blue whirl” could be a huge step forward in potentially reducing emissions. The team notes this is the first time fire tornadoes have been studied for practical application. Scientists trying to harness the power of fire tornadoes? Yeah, I think I feel a Syfy Original Movie in the making here.
Though the benefits for combustion and fuel-burning could be the most promising (though it’ll need years of additional research first), the team believes the findings could make oil spill cleanups more efficient in the near term. This approach could burn off the surface oil on the water faster and with less smoke and soot releases. Win, win.