Science

Fires could be extinguished using beams of electricity

Fires could be extinguished us...
Scientists have developed a device that uses beams of electricity to extinguish flames(Photo: Sylvain Pedneault)
Scientists have developed a device that uses beams of electricity to extinguish flames
(Photo: Sylvain Pedneault)
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Scientists have developed a device that uses beams of electricity to extinguish flames(Photo: Sylvain Pedneault)
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Scientists have developed a device that uses beams of electricity to extinguish flames
(Photo: Sylvain Pedneault)

It's certainly an established fact that electricity can cause fires, but today a group of Harvard scientists presented their research on the use of electricity for fighting fires. In a presentation at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Dr. Ludovico Cademartiri told of how they used a unique device to shoot beams of electricity at an open flame over one foot tall. Almost immediately, he said, the flame was extinguished. On a larger scale, such a system would minimize the amount of water that needed to be sprayed into burning buildings, both saving water and limiting water damage to those buildings.

Apparently, it has been known for over 200 years that electricity affects fire – it can cause flames to change in character, or even stop burning altogether. According to Cademartiri, a postdoctoral fellow in the group of Prof. George M. Whitesides at Harvard University, what hasn't been looked into much is the science behind the relationship. It turns out that soot particles within flames can easily become charged, and therefore can cause flames to lose stability when the local electrical fields are altered.

The Harvard device consists of a 600-watt amplifier hooked up to a wand-like probe, which is what delivers the electrical beams. The researchers believe that a much lower-powered amplifier should deliver similar results, which could allow the system to worn as a backpack, by firefighters. It could also be mounted on ceilings, like current sprinkler systems, or be remotely-controlled.

Cademartiri believes the technology would work best for fires in confined spaces, such as aboard submarines, but not so much for wide-open areas like forests. As it was additionally found that electrical waves can affect the heat and distribution of flames, he also thinks their discovery could be used to boost the efficiency of devices that involve controlled combustion, such as engines, power plants, and cutting and welding torches.

7 comments
Sam Petre
Don\'t cross the Streams!
Denis Klanac
WHO YA GONNA CALL?..............
windykites
These electric beams sound intriguing. Nikola Tesla springs to mind. Presumably the beam is not microwave in nature. It sounds more like an electrostatic field, which would be a lot safer. I wonder why the Harvard device consisted of 600 W amplifier. When I devise something, I usually start small, and work bigger if necessary, rather than the other way round. It seems strange that this effect has been known to 200 years but nobody has done anything about it until now.
Rustin Lee Haase
This is all cool and interesting but it seems critical that **ALL** of the firefighters agree to use EITHER water or electricity to put out the fire. Mixing the two activities seems like a formula for disaster kin to soluble ship hulls.
Paul Anthony
@windykites1-It is my guess that they had it already and adapted it to the use of their project. I do it all the time.
Facebook User
Great technology we need to adapt to aricraft for California Forst fires.
Get on it Evergreen.
Akemai Olivia
How can charging soot prevent combustion of fuel and gas? I know flame is basically plasma, but do you need AC electric field?