The Science of Sustainability

QUEST Lab: Engineering Fire

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Fire is one of humankind’s first technologies. We have been staring into the proverbial campfire for thousands of years. Yet, surprisingly there seems to be much more to learn. And now it’s becoming even more important to our collective future that we know as much as we can about fire.

In a dark lab at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, engineers and mathematicians are developing new burners and studying different flames in hopes of better understanding the power of fire and how to make the most efficient flame possible.

Combustion powers everything from cars to power plants. Improving the efficiency of those systems will help generate more power as well as reduce the amount of emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. In addition, today most power plants run on a single fuel type, say coal or gas. Power generators of the future will probably need to be more versatile and capable of running on multiple different types of fuels, such as hydrogen and natural gas, and move back and forth. Thus, the burners being developed here to study flame efficiency may also lead the way to more versatile power plants.

Robert Cheng, John Bell and the other team members have come together from different scientific disciplines; from mechanical engineering and mathematics to physics and chemistry, to develop these innovative burners and amazing three-dimensional combustion simulations that take advantage of some of the largest super computers in the world. The results are incredibly beautiful and mesmerizing models that one can get lost in staring at…. Much as one might get only when staring at that old campfire.

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Category: Chemistry, Engineering, Environment, Physics, Television

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Chris Bauer

About the Author ()

Chris Bauer is a Media Producer for QUEST. Chris has nearly 20 years experience working in broadcast television; producing sports, history, technology, science, environment and adventure related programming. He is a two-time winner of the international Society of Environmental Journalists Award for Outstanding Television Story and has received multiple Northern California Emmy Awards. Some of his Quest stories have been featured in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, United Nations Association Film Festival, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and the Environmental Film Festival in Washington DC. A 5th generation Bay Area resident and a graduate of St. Mary's College of California, his hobbies include canoeing, snowboarding, wood-working and trying to play the ukulele. He and his family live in San Francisco.