Flames Shaped By Electricity Help Coal Plants Burn Cleaner

A Seattle-based company is working on a cheap technology to reduce emissions from power plants.

Flame
Oscar, CC BY-SA 3.0

One company is developing a cheap way to reduce pollution from power plants—and it does so by controlling the shape of fire. Okay, so that's not as magical as it sounds. As MIT Technology Review reports, scientists have long known the electrons and ions inside a flame respond to electric fields. But the company, ClearSign Combustion of Seattle, has developed a low-cost way to produce the high-voltage electric fields it needs to manipulate the flames inside fossil fuel-burning plants.

ClearSign Combustion's technology uses little of a facility's overall electricity and reduces the amount of fuel a plant requires, so even developing countries may be able to afford it, MIT Technology Review reports. China and India both rely heavily on coal power and struggle with the resultant pollution.

Giving flames just the right shape helps them burn at an even temperature throughout. That avoids both the too-high and too-low temperatures that produce extra pollution. Check out MIT Technology Review for more detail—or check out a few of the older papers that investigated how electricity-manipulated flames reduced the soot output of fires.