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Concept: Combustion


E-cigarette smoke delivers stimulant nicotine as aerosol without tobacco or the burning process. It contains neither carcinogenic incomplete combustion byproducts nor tobacco nitrosamines, the nicotine nitrosation products. E-cigarettes are promoted as safe and have gained significant popularity. In this study, instead of detecting nitrosamines, we directly measured DNA damage induced by nitrosamines in different organs of E-cigarette smoke-exposed mice. We found mutagenic O6-methyldeoxyguanosines and γ-hydroxy-1,N2 -propano-deoxyguanosines in the lung, bladder, and heart. DNA-repair activity and repair proteins XPC and OGG1/2 are significantly reduced in the lung. We found that nicotine and its metabolite, nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone, can induce the same effects and enhance mutational susceptibility and tumorigenic transformation of cultured human bronchial epithelial and urothelial cells. These results indicate that nicotine nitrosation occurs in vivo in mice and that E-cigarette smoke is carcinogenic to the murine lung and bladder and harmful to the murine heart. It is therefore possible that E-cigarette smoke may contribute to lung and bladder cancer, as well as heart disease, in humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cancer, Tobacco, Tobacco smoking, Nicotine, Electronic cigarette, Combustion


Fire whirls are powerful, spinning disasters for people and surroundings when they occur in large urban and wildland fires. Whereas fire whirls have been studied for fire-safety applications, previous research has yet to harness their potential burning efficiency for enhanced combustion. This article presents laboratory studies of fire whirls initiated as pool fires, but where the fuel sits on a water surface, suggesting the idea of exploiting the high efficiency of fire whirls for oil-spill remediation. We show the transition from a pool fire, to a fire whirl, and then to a previously unobserved state, a “blue whirl.” A blue whirl is smaller, very stable, and burns completely blue as a hydrocarbon flame, indicating soot-free burning. The combination of fast mixing, intense swirl, and the water-surface boundary creates the conditions leading to nearly soot-free combustion. With the worldwide need to reduce emissions from both wanted and unwanted combustion, discovery of this state points to possible new pathways for reduced-emission combustion and fuel-spill cleanup. Because current methods to generate a stable vortex are difficult, we also propose that the blue whirl may serve as a research platform for fundamental studies of vortices and vortex breakdown in fluid mechanics.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Hydrogen, Tornado, Fire, Combustion, Vortices, Fuel, Flame


Bioenergy will be one component of a suite of alternatives to fossil fuels. Effective conversion of biomass to energy will require the careful pairing of advanced conversion technologies with biomass feedstocks optimized for the purpose. Lignocellulosic biomass can be converted to useful energy products via two distinct pathways: enzymatic or thermochemical conversion. The thermochemical pathways are reviewed and potential biotechnology or breeding targets to improve feedstocks for pyrolysis, gasification, and combustion are identified. Biomass traits influencing the effectiveness of the thermochemical process (cell wall composition, mineral and moisture content) differ from those important for enzymatic conversion and so properties are discussed in the language of biologists (biochemical analysis) as well as that of engineers (proximate and ultimate analysis). We discuss the genetic control, potential environmental influence, and consequences of modification of these traits. Improving feedstocks for thermochemical conversion can be accomplished by the optimization of lignin levels, and the reduction of ash and moisture content. We suggest that ultimate analysis and associated properties such as H:C, O:C, and heating value might be more amenable than traditional biochemical analysis to the high-throughput necessary for the phenotyping of large plant populations. Expanding our knowledge of these biomass traits will play a critical role in the utilization of biomass for energy production globally, and add to our understanding of how plants tailor their composition with their environment.

Concepts: Metabolism, Hydrogen, Petroleum, Cell wall, Biofuel, Combustion, Biomass, Pyrolysis


Radiocarbon analyses are commonly used in a broad range of fields, including earth science, archaeology, forgery detection, isotope forensics, and physiology. Many applications are sensitive to the radiocarbon ((14)C) content of atmospheric CO2, which has varied since 1890 as a result of nuclear weapons testing, fossil fuel emissions, and CO2 cycling between atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial carbon reservoirs. Over this century, the ratio (14)C/C in atmospheric CO2 (Δ(14)CO2) will be determined by the amount of fossil fuel combustion, which decreases Δ(14)CO2 because fossil fuels have lost all (14)C from radioactive decay. Simulations of Δ(14)CO2 using the emission scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, the Representative Concentration Pathways, indicate that ambitious emission reductions could sustain Δ(14)CO2 near the preindustrial level of 0‰ through 2100, whereas “business-as-usual” emissions will reduce Δ(14)CO2 to -250‰, equivalent to the depletion expected from over 2,000 y of radioactive decay. Given current emissions trends, fossil fuel emission-driven artificial “aging” of the atmosphere is likely to occur much faster and with a larger magnitude than previously expected. This finding has strong and as yet unrecognized implications for many applications of radiocarbon in various fields, and it implies that radiocarbon dating may no longer provide definitive ages for samples up to 2,000 y old.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Carbon, Atmosphere, Methane, Fossil fuel, Combustion, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


Here we see why humans unwittingly build fires that look the same: edifices of fuel, as tall as they are wide. The pile of fuel is permeable, air invades it by natural convection and drives the combustion. I show that the hottest pile of burning fuel occurs when the height of the pile is roughly the same as its base diameter. Future studies may address the shape effect of wind, material type, and packing. Key is why humans of all eras have been relying on this design of fire “unwittingly”. The reason is that the heat flow from fire facilitates the movement and spreading of human mass on the globe.

Concepts: Human, Nitrogen, Heat, Human height, Heat transfer, Fire, Combustion, Fuel


Propane (C3H8) is a volatile hydrocarbon with highly favourable physicochemical properties as a fuel, in addition to existing global markets and infrastructure for storage, distribution and utilization in a wide range of applications. Consequently, propane is an attractive target product in research aimed at developing new renewable alternatives to complement currently used petroleum-derived fuels. This study focuses on the construction and evaluation of alternative microbial biosynthetic pathways for the production of renewable propane. The new pathways utilize CoA intermediates that are derived from clostridial-like fermentative butanol pathways and are therefore distinct from the first microbial propane pathways recently engineered in Escherichia coli.

Concepts: Gasoline, Petroleum, Escherichia coli, Hydrocarbon, Natural gas, Combustion, Fuel, Propane


Grass pellets are a renewable resource that have energy content similar to that of wood. However, the higher ash and chlorine content affects combustion. Thermal degradation analysis of a fuel is useful in developing effective combustion. Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) of the thermal degradation of grass pellets under inert (nitrogen) and oxidizing (air) atmospheres was conducted. Non-isothermal conditions were employed with 4 different heating rates. Kinetic parameters (activation energy and pre-exponential factors) were estimated using the iso-conversional method. Both pyrolysis and oxidative atmospheric thermal degradation exhibited two major loss process: volatilization of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin and burning or slow oxidation of the residual char. The activation energy and pre-exponential factors were high for the oxidizing environment. During pyrolysis, major decomposition occurred with 40% to 75% conversion of the mass to gas with an activation energy of 314kJ/mol. In air the decomposition occurred with 30% to 55% conversion with an activation energy of 556kJ/mol. There was a substantial effect of heating rate on mass loss and mass loss rate. The TG shifted to higher temperature ranges on increasing the heating rate. In both pyrolyzing and oxidizing conditions, average combustion and devolatilization rates increased. Enhanced combustion takes place with higher activation energy in oxidizing atmosphere compared to the inert atmosphere due to presence of air.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Thermodynamics, Heat, Atmosphere, Combustion


Smoke taint in wines from bushfire smoke exposure has become a concern for wine producers. Smoke taint compounds are primarily derived from pyrolysis of the lignin component of fuels. This work examined the influence of the lignin composition of pyrolysed vegetation on the types of putative smoke taint compounds that accrue in wines. At veraison, Merlot vines were exposed to smoke generated from five vegetation types with differing lignin composition. Smoke was generated under pyrolysis conditions that simulated bushfire temperature profiles. Lignin and smoke composition of each fuel type along with putative smoke taint compounds in wines were determined. The results showed that, regardless of fuel type, the commonly reported guaiacyl lignin derived smoke taint compounds, guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol, represented about 20% of the total phenols in wines. Quantitatively, syringyl lignin derived compounds dominated the total phenol pools in both free and bound forms. The contributions of p-hydroxyphenyls were generally similar to the guaiacyl sources. A further unexpected outcome of the study was that pine smoke affected wines had significantly elevated levels of syringols compared to the controls although pine fuel and its smoke emission lacked syringyl products.

Concepts: Lignin, Smoke, Wine, Phenols, Vanillin, Combustion, Grape, Guaiacol


Although the thermal behaviors including thermal instability of nitrocellulose (NC) and its mixtures with some humectants have been comprehensively examined previously in the literature, their combustion characteristics have not been systematically studied. To address the issue, the combustion properties of NC with alcohol humectants are investigated by the means of the ISO 5660 cone calorimeter. Two kinds of NC-humectant mixtures with 30wt.% isopropanol and 30wt.% ethanol, respectively, were employed as samples. The tests were conducted under different external radiations, ranging from 0-15kW/m(2). The experimental results indicate that the external radiation positively influences the peak heat release rate (HRR) intensity and the maximum mass loss rate (MLR), while the total heat release (THR) decreases with the elevated external radiation. Comparatively, the sample with isopropanol exhibits a higher fire risk, characterized by the higher peak HRR, THR and maximum MLR. Auxiliary investigating methods, including Scanning Electron Microscopy and Differential Scanning Calorimeter-Thermal Gravimetric Analysis, were applied to examine the micro structure and thermal behavior of NC-humectant mixtures. The results helped to explain the burning characteristics observed in the cone calorimeter tests.

Concepts: Electron, Oxygen, Alcohol, Fundamental physics concepts, Ethanol, Scanning electron microscope, Radiation, Combustion


In this paper, we present the first atomistic-scale based method for calculating ignition front propagation speed and hypothesize that this quantity is related to laminar flame speed. This method is based on atomistic-level molecular dynamics (MD) simulations with the ReaxFF reactive force field. Results reported in this study are for supercritical (P = 55 MPa and Tu = 1800 K) combustion of hydrocarbons as elevated pressure and temperature are required to accelerate the dynamics for reactive MD simulations. These simulations are performed for different types of hydrocarbons, including alkyne, alkane, and aromatic, and are able to successfully reproduce the experimental trend of reactivity of these hydrocarbons. Moreover, our results indicate that the ignition front propagation speed under supercritical conditions has a strong dependence on equivalence ratio, similar to experimentally measured flame speeds at lower temperatures and pressures which supports our hypothesis that ignition front speed is a related quantity to laminar flame speed. In addition, comparisons between results obtained from ReaxFF simulation and continuum simulations performed under similar conditions show good qualitative, and reasonable quantitative agreement. This demonstrates that ReaxFF based MD-simulations are a promising tool to study flame speed/ignition front speed in supercritical hydrocarbon combustion.

Concepts: Scientific method, Molecular dynamics, Thermodynamics, Experiment, Force, Hydrocarbon, Combustion, Standard conditions for temperature and pressure