Combustion Processes

Every fossil fuel must be burned, or combusted, in order to extract energy. The only kind of energy that is available through combustion is heat energy. In some cases, the heat itself is the desired result. Just pile some wood on the ground and set it on fire and — voilà! — you have warmth, heat energy at its most basic. Of course, the key is ordered, or controlled, energy, and for that you need machinery that can manipulate the heat. In home heating systems, the machinery is very simple; it merely channels the heat into the room, or area, where it is used. The simplest home heating "machine" is a fireplace.

In most combustion processes, however, the end goal isn't heat, but electrical energy or energy that can be used for transportation. To produce electrical energy, the heat from combustion is used to spin a turbine that creates electricity via generators. To produce energy for transport, the heat from combustion is translated into mechanical energy, or torque and power on a shaft which is connected to a vehicle's wheels through a transmission (gears).

Briefly, a turbine is simply a fan; when air pressure or steam pressure is set against the turbine (fan) blades it causes the shaft to spin. A generator is like an electric motor, except operating in reverse. When a generator's shaft is forced to turn, two output wires provide electrical power (as opposed to the operation of a fan, where electrical power is supplied to two wires and the fan blade spins).

What I refer to as combustion is actually oxidation, a reaction between the fuel being combusted and the oxygen in the air. Without oxygen, there is no combustion.

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