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Earth Science Technology

Flaming 'Blue Whirl' Could Be Used In Fuel Spill Cleanup (sciencenews.org) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science News: An unfortunate mix of electricity and bourbon has led to a new discovery. After lightning hit a Jim Beam warehouse in 2003, a nearby lake was set ablaze when the distilled spirit spilled into the water and ignited. Spiraling tornadoes of fire leapt from the surface. In a laboratory experiment inspired by the conflagration, a team of researchers produced a new, efficiently burning fire tornado, which they named a blue whirl. To re-create the bourbon-fire conditions, the researchers, led by Elaine Oran of the University of Maryland in College Park, ignited liquid fuel floating on a bath of water. They surrounded the blaze with a cylindrical structure that funneled air into the flame to create a vortex with a height of about 60 centimeters. Eventually, the chaotic fire whirl calmed into a blue, cone-shaped flame just a few centimeters tall, the scientists report online August 4 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The soot-free blur whirls could be a way of burning off oil spills on water without adding much pollution to the air, the researchers say, if they can find a way to control them in the wild. You can view the clean-burning 'blue whirl' here.
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Flaming 'Blue Whirl' Could Be Used In Fuel Spill Cleanup

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  • Alcohol (Score:5, Funny)

    by ravenshrike ( 808508 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @02:13AM (#52730881)

    The cause, and solution to, all of life's problems

  • by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @02:18AM (#52730897) Homepage

    But when I experiment with fire, I get called a pyromaniac and an arsonist and have to run from police. It is discrimination I tell ya.

    BAH HUMBUG!!

  • Well... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Z80a ( 971949 )

    What possibly could go wrong?

  • BBQ prior art (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BlackSabbath ( 118110 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @02:41AM (#52730941)

    "They surrounded the blaze with a cylindrical structure that funneled air into the flame to create a vortex with a height of about 60 centimeters."

    My earliest memoir of my dad barbecuing includes him using an empty olive-oil can to create precisely the conditions described though with different fuel and resulting in a red whirl.

    • memoir => memory

      Bloody autocorrect.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Read again. They started with that red whirl, but then it unexpectedly turned into a blue one. Which is a big deal because that indicates complete (clean) combustion.

      That said, could this be used in a fuel spill cleanup? Not very likely.
      That's just a unsubstantiated idea they gave to pimp their research and get more grant money.

    • My experiences with fighting a large pool fire from an overturned fuel truck were that fire tornadoes happen quite happily in nature without the help of people :-)

  • Soot free? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @03:02AM (#52730961)

    Isn't burning alcohol always soot-free without any other tech-gadget?

    I#m impressed when they do it with Diesel. Or crude oil, which was involved in most spilling accidents.

    • Re:Soot free? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 19, 2016 @03:22AM (#52730999)

      Isn't burning alcohol always soot-free without any other tech-gadget?

      I#m impressed when they do it with Diesel. Or crude oil, which was involved in most spilling accidents.

      The ethanol fire was what inspired it, but the experiments in the paper used n-heptane. There's a note that they also got the cone to form with "heavier hydrocarbons, such as crude oil" but there's no actual data for that. Presumably they're keeping that stuff for a follow up paper.

    • Isn't burning alcohol always soot-free without any other tech-gadget?

      Watch the video at the first link. 800,000 gallons of bourbon flowed through a woods and into a pond, the pond has orange flames coming up.

    • I was thinking the same thing isn't alcohol usually a mostly blue flame to begin with.

      I've seen more than my share of alcohol fires in the 80s... I had a bandmate that would catch himself on fire all the time and spit fire I'm surprised he never burnt himself.

      • Wow.. what drinks did you have in your band?

        But might match a stunt my roommate did: poured alcohol in his hand and set that on fire.

        His explanation was that it was the vapors burning and that evaporating the liquid alcohol used up enough of the heat energy set free by the combustion to not burn his hand. ....if he remembered to blow out the flame while there was liquid alcohol left in his hand :-)

        • He liked to use his own special blend of water and everclear... Kind of like rubbing alcohol only you could drink it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    After lightning hit a Jim Beam warehouse in 2003, a nearby lake was set ablaze when the distilled spirit spilled into the water and ignited. Spiraling tornadoes of fire leapt from the surface.

    This reads like it might be the body text from one of those awful full-page magazine adverts the whisky makers like to run with sepia-toned photos from the good ol' days and a paragraph of text rambling about some accidental discovery made by the founder of the distillery. Gah.

  • by sabbede ( 2678435 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @06:47AM (#52731433)
    since 10,000 BC!
  • WW II story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @06:59AM (#52731479)
    An old timer told me of a time he saw a ship carrying bundles of lumber torpedoed during World War II. The spilled fuel caused firenados where the floating bundles of lumber wicked it up. When they went back the next morning to search for survivors there was very little oil left floating on the water. Maybe it happened, maybe it's just an old war story.
  • As cool as a clean burning column of fire is, a vortex engine [wikipedia.org] looks like a more practical use of the phenomenon. The idea is to capture the energy of a rising warm air column as in a solar updraft tower, though without needing to construct a tower. It also offers the potential to replace cooling towers, and extract energy from the significant amount of "waste" heat available at thermal or nuclear plants. (That heat need not be wasted, and can also be used for cogeneration [wikipedia.org]. The higher temperature heat pr

  • Wait a minute. Wasn't there an old huge video-displayed problem with oil spills (leaks, whatever) the poor birds with oiled feathers and fish unable to function? Set aside the fact that money was asked for in some of those commercial^H^H^Hpresentations, but it was a concern.

    I'm not for or against anything in this statement, but aren't they leaving out a piece of "natural health" with this solution?

    "Put up that huge ole cylinder, light it ablaze and watch how slowly (or quickly, depending on the location i

    • by xanthos ( 73578 )

      Hmmm

      Firenado and oil covered birds and fish.

      Dinner and a show!

      • Hmmm

        Firenado and oil covered birds and fish.

        Dinner and a show!

        Ok, thanks. Now I'm hungry. Where in the eff did I leave that kids pool and used oil??

  • Scientists are going to have to repeat experiments with Stoli, Glenfiddich and Hennessy.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." -- Albert Einstein

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