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Conditions of Combustion
The burning of a substance is called combustion. It is an exothermic process (chemical reactions which give out heat to the surroundings are called exothermic reactions). E.g., Burning of coal

Burning of butane gas

(g - gas form) The common observation in the above reactions is that oxygen combines with carbon to release heat. These chemicals like coal or butane are known as fuels. Most of the fuels contain carbon and release carbon dioxide on combustion. The cleanest fuel is hydrogen because the product is water which is non polluting.

But the manufacture of hydrogen involves the production of carbon dioxide.

Sub Topics
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Conditions Choice of a Good Fuel Considering the Burning of Methane Characteristics of an ideal fuel Advantages of liquid and gaseous fuels over solid fuels Disadvantages of liquid and gaseous fuels over solid fuels Efficient use of Fuels

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There are some conditions associated with the process of combustion.

The substance to be burnt must be combustible (the substance must catch fire easily). Wood, paper, coal, coke, hydrogen, liquified petroleum gas, natural gas, petrol, kerosene, diesel, alcohol, ether etc. are some of the combustible substances.
The presence of a supporter of combustion is another condition for combustion to take place. They are nothing but the substances which help combustion of a combustible substance. Oxygen and air are the supporter of combustion. Air contains 21% of oxygen (a supporter of combustion) by volume and 78% of nitrogen by volume which is neither combustible nor a supporter of combustion. That is why combustible substances burn at moderate rate in air but burn at a very fast rate in oxygen.

When a burning piece of charcoal is brought in contact with oxygen gas collected in the jar, the gas does not burn but the burning of charcoal is rekindled. If the burning charcoal is covered with a vessel, thereby the supply of oxygen is cut off, the burning of charcoal stops after sometime. This proves that burning can take place only in the presence of a supporter of combustion.

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Another condition for combustion to take place is that the combustible substance should be heated so that its temperature reaches its ignition temperature. No substance can burn below its ignition temperature. The substances having low ignition temperature are called inflammable substances. The vapors of these substances in air can catch fire with a minor spark and hence can cause serious accident. Alcohol, ether, carbon disulphide, benzene synthetic fibres are some of the substances having low ignition temperature. If the ignition temperature is below the room temperature the substance can catch fire even without an external source of heat energy.

Such substances are known as spontaneously inflammable ones. Sodium and phosphorous are spontaneously inflammable substances. It is due to the spontaneous combustion of gun powder inside the fire-cracker that it explodes. In a spontaneous combustion, the reaction is complete. Candle, wood or coke undergo slow combustion where a part of the fuel may not burn completely thereby producing smoke.
During incomplete combustion a part of the unburnt carbon passes into the atmosphere in the form of soot. This not only causes wastage of the fuel but also pollutes the atmosphere by producing highly poisonous carbon monoxide, which may cause respiratory problems.

Choice of a Good Fuel

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Fuels come in many varieties such as wood, cow dung, charcoal, kerosine and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). These are used for cooking purposes. Coal, fuel, oil and natural gas are used in industries. Petrol and diesel are used in automobiles and locomotives. Specially prepared fuels are used in rockets. On the basis of the physical state of fuel, it can be classified as solid, liquid and gas fuels.
Solid fuels Wood Agricultural Residues Charcoal Coal Coke Paraffin wax Liquid fuels Liquid hydrogen Petrol oil Kerosene oil Diesel oil Alcohol Furnace oil Gas fuels Water gas Producer gas Coal gas Compressed natural gas Bio gas Hydrogen gas

On the basis of the source of the

fuel, fuels can be classified as primary and secondary fuels.

Primary Fuels Secondary Fuels

These fuels occur in the These are obtained from natural fuels by various physical and same form as they occur in chemical processes nature. E.g., Water gas and producer gas from coke, coal gas from coal, E.g., Wood, coal, Bio gas from animal dung, coke from coal, petrol, kerosine, agricultural wastes, natural diesel and furnace oil from petroleum, charcoal from wood gas, animal dung

Moreover different fuels give different amounts of heat on burning. The heat liberated in joules when one gram of fuel is burnt is called the 'calorific value' of the fuel. Calorific values of different fuels can be determined experimentally. A known mass of fuel (x) whose calorific value is to be determined is burnt below the beaker containing a known mass (m) of water. By noting the initial (t1) and final temperature (t2) of the heated water, and the

known value of the specific heat of water (s) the heat gained by the water (Q) can be calculated.

The calorific value of the used fuel is fuels thus calculated are listed below.
Fuel (solid) Charcoal Coal Calorific value KJ/g 33 25 - 33 Fuel (liquid) Kerosene Fuel oil

. The calorific values of some of the common

Calorific value KJ/g 48 45

Fuel (gas)

Calorific value KJ/g 150 55

Hydrogen Methane Butane LPG Biogas






Dung coke


35 - 40

Why all the calorific values different for different fuels? Why do they give different amounts of heat? Hydrogen and oxygen differ in their ability to hold electrons. Chemists measure this ability of an atom by its electronegativity. Hydrogen holds its single electron loosely and oxygen atom holds its eight electrons tightly, oxygen has the highest electronegativity. When oxygen forms a molecular bond with hydrogen, it holds the electron contributed by hydrogen very tightly to the bond and hence hydrogen atom is oxidized and oxygen atom is reduced. The removal of an electron from an atom requires energy and attraction of an electron to another electron releases energy. In the process of oxidation of hydrogen the energy lost is less since it is loosely bound and energy released in the reduction of oxygen is more. Thereby there is a net release of energy.

Considering the Burning of Methane

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C - H bonds and two O = O bonds are broken to form 2C = O and 4 O - H bonds. Energy required to break C - H bond is 4.5 KJ/mole and that of O = O bond is 497 KJ/mole. Energy released in the formation of O - H bond is 467.25 KJ/mole and that of C = O bonds is 803.33

KJ/mole. So the above reaction releases a net energy of 803.66 KJ/mole making it an exothermic reaction.
This explains why different fuels have different calorific value.

Characteristics of an ideal fuel

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The parameters like calorific value and rate of combustion make one fuel better than the other. Some attributes of an ideal fuel are:
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High calorific value Proper ignition temperature Moderate rate of combustion Low content of non - volatile material Absence of poisonous products on combustion Ready availability Low cost Abundant availability and Easy storage and transport

No available fuel has all the above said characteristics. Hence a comparative study is made to choose a good fuel.

Advantages of liquid and gaseous fuels over solid fuels

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Unlike solid fuels liquids and gaseous fuels leave behind no ash. They have low ignition temperature compared to solid fuels. The calorific value of liquid and gaseous fuels is higher and can be easily transported through pipelines. They also produce very little smoke.

Disadvantages of liquid and gaseous fuels over solid fuels

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Liquid and gaseous fuels form explosive mixtures making them difficult to handle. Since they require special leak proof containers their storage is difficult. They are expensive compared to solid fuels.

Efficient use of Fuels

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The stocks of fuels are limited and hence use of energy saving devices is a must. As far as possible use only renewable sources of energy. More efficient heating installations should be employed while cooking. Incomplete combustion of fuel results in wastage of fuel leading to air pollution due to the liberation of carbon monoxide. Avoidance of incomplete combustion of fuel would go a long way to preserve precious fuels.