Searching for Stability in Cleaner Flames

Along the top, flames show a growing instability in the vertical direction. Along the bottom, an azimuthal instability affects the flames.

Spiking natural gas power plants with hydrogen could help them burn cleaner as we transition away from carbon power. But burners in power plants and jet engines can be extremely finicky, thanks to thermoacoustic instabilities. As a flame burns, it can sputter and fluctuate in its heat output. That creates pressure oscillations (which we sometimes hear as sound waves) that reflect off the burner’s walls and return toward the flame, causing further fluctuations. This feedback loop can be destructive enough to explode combustion chambers.

Adding hydrogen to a burner designed purely for natural gas can trigger these instabilities (above image), but researchers hope that by exploring fuel-mixtures and their effect at lab-scale, they can help designers find safe ways to adapt industrial burners for the cleaner fuel mixture. (Image and research credit: B. Ahn et al.; via APS Physics)

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