Video: We may soon be fighting oil spills with blue fire tornadoes

For anyone so deeply embedded in the anti-energy movement that you wouldn’t be impressed by the second coming of Christ, you can safely skip this article, but for everyone else… this is just awesome. One of the persistent problems we face in oil and gas exploration are the thankfully infrequent incidents of oil spills from ocean platforms. The Deepwater Horizon failure was one of the most recent and high profile of these, resulting in a substantial release of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. While we’ve made tremendous advancements in limiting the spread of spills, capturing lost product and containing areas of contamination, such accidents remain a constant cause of concern.

One group of scientists may have found a way to cut the spread of spills short far more quickly and the technology they’re working on can only be described as incredibly cool. Of course, “cool” takes the opposite meaning from a temperature reading here because they’re talking about using fire tornadoes.

Scientists have discovered a new type of fire tornado called the “blue whirl.” But unlike its counterparts, which pose a threat to life and property, the “blue whirl” is surprisingly eco-friendly and can even help in pollution and oil spills.

According to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists discovered the new type of flame while by combining rising heat and turbulent winds.

The “blue whirl” flame is a refined flame that consists of a core flame while rotating columns of air surround it. The result looks like a mini blue tornado spinning like a top.

“Blue whirls evolve from traditional yellow fire whirls. The yellow color is due to radiating soot particles, which form when there is not enough oxygen to burn the fuel completely,” said Elaine Oran, co-author of the study, via UMD Right Now.

While the demonstration is obviously conducted on a small scaled, check out what a blue fire tornado looks like.

Assuming they can scale this up to an open water environment this demonstration answers one question we frequently hear when there’s an oil spill on the water: why don’t you just burn it? Well, that’s been done in the past, sometimes unintentionally, but you can create even more problems with a slow oil burn on the water. (Just ask the people of Cleveland who were around when their river burned.) If you see a lot of yellow flames licking up they will immediately be followed by billowing clouds of thick black smoke and unspent fuel residue falling out of solution into the water below the fire. Yes, you can get rid of a lot of the oil, but it’s a very messy process.

This higher temperature fire can burn the fuel far more cleanly with very few byproducts, similar to burning natural gas in your home. If you can control the flame column in a circular, tornado style fashion, it pulls fuel – both oxygen and oil product on the surface – into the funnel, reducing the surface area of the spill and burning it off more cleanly.

Even if you’re opposed to fossil fuels, you’ve got to admit that this is a pretty awesome idea, right? And c’mon, man… it’s a freaking blue fire tornado!