Researchers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have documented the presence of a new class of fire known as "cool flames".
Peter Sunderland, a Professor of Fire Protection Engineering and Keystone Professor at the University of Maryland, said that this discovery could transform what we know fire can be and increase the possibilities of what it can do. Sunderland continued and said that the current goal of his research is to understand these "spherical cool diffusion flames" and eventually model how they work, which can lead to designing "a new class of clean combustion engine."
The new class of fire is known as "cool flames" due to how extremely low the temperature is and how hard the blue hue of the flame is to see. In 2012 "cool flames" were first discovered on the ISS, but only for a brief moment before all fuel was exhausted. This event sparked interest in "cool flames" due to how very little was known about them. To push the humans' envelope of understanding of fire even further, a team of researchers partnered with astronauts aboard the ISS to test different gas fuels.
"This discovery transforms our understanding of what fire can be and what it can do. The goal of our research is to understand the particular processes ongoing in spherical cool diffusion flames. If we can understand and model how they work, then we might be able to harness cool flames to design a new class of clean combustion engine." said Sunderland.
The researchers and the astronauts successfully generated controlled "cool flames" for at least two minutes.
"Little is known about combustion chemistry at these temperatures. Part of what we're learning is how much we didn't know," said Sunderland.