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Name:  dean
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location:TN
Country: N/A
Date: 2/6/2005


Question:
Which substance is consumed the fastest out of paper, cloth, charcoal, and wood?
* * * * *
Hi, this is Dean's dad. He is doing a science project - will weigh 60g of each substance listed and place blowtorch underneath to see which burns / is consumed the fastest - then weigh the ashes and try to make some sort of statement about burning times ...

We are not sure if you all have any data / references to study combustion in this sense.


Replies:
There are several issues that you need to consider:

1. SAFETY Remember you are literally "playing with fire" so be sure you have a way to extinguish any experiments that get out of hand. Work on a fireproof table or have some non-flammable cover underneath your "furnace". Have GOOD VENTILATION -- papers containing pigments may give off compounds that contain toxic metals. An example is phthalocyanine blue. It contains copper that may form copper oxide dust that you would not want to inhale. In addition, some combustion products may be carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and other toxic volatile gases.

2. PAPER There are many different grades and types of paper. The "generic" composition of paper is cellulose fiber, some sort of organic binder (essentially a "glue" that holds the fibers together), non-flammable minerals such as calcium carbonate, or clay. Paper towels, toilet paper, and newspaper for example contain little or none of these substances, but high quality paper like a page out of National Geographics is loaded with these non-flammable white pigments. Safety issue regarding pigments also apply here.

3. CHARCOAL As you know from your grill, you can ignite the charcoal and it will burn slowly for a long time, so you need to determine how long you are going to let the combustion continue. You need to be especially careful here to have good ventilation (do experiment outside). A major combustion product of charcoal is CARBON MONOXIDE -- odorless and extremely toxic.

4. CLOTH Some fabrics are treated with flame retardant materials, so you need to be aware of that if the fabric you choose seems to keep extinguishing itself.

I did a quick "Google" search on the terms: "combustion products [XXXX]" where [XXXX] = paper, fabrics, charcoal, wood. You will find a wealth of information on the various combustion products of various flammable substances, too many to list here.

Like many science projects, they sound simple but they grow in complexity when planned out in detail, but that is OK because that is how MOST SCIENCE WORKS -- EASY QUESTIONS, HARD ANSWERS.

Vince Calder



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