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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

13 - Combustion


Combustion is the reaction of a fuel with oxygen. It is a subset of the more general subject of chemical equilibrium, which is considered in Chapter 14. Combustion is treated as a separate topic because combustion reactions tend to progress until the fuel is completely consumed. Combustion of various hydrocarbon fuels is the major source of useful energy (i.e., exergy) for transportation, electrical generation, space conditioning, water heating, and industrial processes.

Introduction to Combustion

Table 13-1 summarizes the sources of the energy that are consumed in the United States. The nation consumes about 102 quads (1.02 × 1017 Btu or 1.08 × 1011 GJ) of useful energy each year, which represents about 25% of the world energy consumption. The majority of this energy is provided by combustion. There are two major concerns with this current situation. First, nearly all combustible fuels contain carbon, which results in the generation of carbon dioxide during combustion, as shown in this chapter. Combustion in the U.S. alone resulted in the production of 5,990 million metric tons (5.9 × 1012 kg) of carbon dioxide in 2007 according to the U.S. Department of Energy (2009). Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs a portion of the thermal energy that is re-radiated from the earth and thereby contributes to global warming. Second, reserves of petroleum and natural gas, which account for over 60% of our useful energy supply, are finite. Although the extent of these reserves is a subject of debate, it is likely that they will become depleted in less than 50 years at the present rate of use. There are hundreds of years of coal reserves, but coal generates more carbon dioxide per unit energy than natural gas and coal also produces other contaminants when combusted. The sustainability of our energy supply and the associated problem of global warming are perhaps the most serious problems that the human race has ever faced.

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