Jonathan lead to a better understanding of each substance



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Exploring Chemical Combustion

            Gasoline, alcohol, and acetone are
liquids that are used every day as fuel and first aid, as well as powerful
solvents and cleaners. Gasoline is an efficient fuel used by many people every
day. Alcohol has several uses, including cleaners, fuel, and first aid, as it
has powerful cleansing properties. Acetone, too, has numerous uses, serving as
a solvent and fuel and cosmetic additive. Each liquid has many uses, and each is
highly flammable. Of the three, gasoline will burn the longest. If a
measurement of gasoline were to be lit, it will burn longer and more
efficiently than the same measurement of alcohol or acetone because of its ease
of combustion and its efficiency as fuel.

            The purpose of the following
described series of experiment is to answer two main questions, the first being
“Which chemical substance burns for the longest amount of time?”, and the
second being “Which chemical substance burns the cleanest?” This experiment is
set out to answer these questions because their answers may provide valuable
information that can help benefit society, as well as provide a better
understanding of each substance and how each one reacts and combusts. To answer
these questions, a set of controlled experiments is held. The experiments are
controlled as they are held under the same conditions with only one variable:
the chemical substance that is being burned. The purpose of this experiment is
to discover which substance burns the longest and which substance burns the
cleanest, the answers of which can hopefully lead to a better understanding of
each substance and of how each can benefit society.

            Before discussing the experiments
themselves, understanding of each substance must be established. Gasoline is a
substance made from crude oil, a fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are buried
combustible geological deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed
plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or
heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over thousands
of years (ScienceDaily). The crude oil pumped out of the ground is called
petroleum, which is an oily, thick, flammable, usually dark-colored liquid that
is a form of bitumen or a mixture of various hydrocarbons, occurring naturally
in various parts of the world and commonly obtained by drilling (Brain,
Marshall; Petroleum liquid contains hydrocarbons, meaning that
it contains organic chemical compounds composed only of the elements carbon (C)
and hydrogen (H) (Brain, Marshall; Carey, Francis). Chains of these hydrocarbon
molecules can form into a wide variety of products. “For example, a chain with
just one carbon atom in it (CH4) is the lightest chain, known as methane. As
the chain gets longer, they get heavier” (Brain, Marshall). Hydrocarbon chains
of five to seven carbons form solvents, including dry cleaning fluids and paint
solvents, such as acetone ( The gasoline used for automobile
fuel is made up mainly of hydrocarbon chains with seven to eleven carbon atoms.
These hydrocarbon molecules can combust. “Hydrocarbon combustion refers to the
type of reaction where a hydrocarbon reacts with oxygen to create carbon
dioxide, water, and heat” ( Energy is released from these
types of reactions. This energy is what powers the gas engine, which in turn,
power the automobile ( Gasoline is a substance made from
crude oil, or petroleum, which is a highly flammable substance made of
hydrocarbons that combust and react with oxygen to generate energy that powers
the device of which it serves as fuel to.

            Isopropyl Alcohol, also known as
Propanol or Isopropanol, is a colorless, flammable, water-soluble liquid
produced usually by methods of hydration (; Favors, LaTasha). The
process of creating isopropyl alcohol begins with the process of Hydration.
“During hydration, the component substances of water, which are hydrogen and
oxygen (H20), react with those that compose propene—carbon and hydrogen (C3H6)”
(Favors, LaTasha). There are two methods of hydration under which isopropyl
alcohol can be produced. These methods include direct hydration and indirect
hydration. “In direct hydration, propene and water are combined either in their
liquid or gaseous forms. For a reaction to occur, a solid acidic catalyst (a
substance that triggers chemical reactions) must be present when the two
substances mix” (Favors, LaTasha). Manufacturers use furnaces to apply pressure
and heat to the material, to stimulate the reaction. However, as “not all
materials are consumed in the reaction, a system for separating and recycling
waste materials and byproducts is then employed” to ensure that the alcohol is
as pure as it can be” (Favors, LaTasha). The second method of hydration is
indirect hydration. “In indirect hydration, the propene is initially mixed and
dissolved with sulfuric acid, in an apparatus called an absorber. The result is
a mixture of sulfate ester” (Favors, LaTasha). Later in the process, the
sulfate esters mix with water and run through hydrolyzers, which are machines
that “break down the water and other complex molecules to create isopropyl
alcohol,” and, as with direct hydration, “byproducts are either recirculated or
set aside” (Favors, LaTasha). These reactions form new chemical bonds and
create isopropyl alcohol. However, these chemical reactions often leave additional
byproducts. The initial result of these reactions is a mixture of alcohol and
various other wastes and byproducts. Thus, the substance is refined by the
process of distillation, which is defined as “the volatilization or evaporation
and subsequent condensation of a liquid” (Favors, LaTasha; The
process of distillation then produces one-hundred percent isopropyl alcohol
(Favors, LaTasha). Isopropyl alcohol is a flammable liquid that is produced by a
three-part process of hydration, hydrolysis, and distillation.

Understanding the chemical structure of
isopropyl alcohol can help to also understand why the substance is so useful. The
chemical formula of isopropyl alcohol is written as C3H8O, meaning that there
are three carbon (C) atoms, eights hydrogen (H) atoms, and one oxygen (O) atom
per molecule of the liquid. “The three carbon atoms of isopropyl alcohol are
bonded together in a three-carbon chain. The two carbon atoms at each end have
three hydrogen atoms bonded to them, and the carbon atom in the middle has one
hydrogen atom bonded to it and one hydroxyl (OH) group bonded to it”
( Because of its hydroxyl group, isopropyl alcohol molecules are
held together only by weak hydrogen bonds. “Consequently, it has a much higher
boiling point and melting point than propane,” another chemical substance with
the same number of carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms (Brennan, John). Also, as
isopropyl molecules are only loosely held together, they can combust easily. “Combustion
is a process in which strong electrostatic force of attraction between the
molecules are broken and simpler compounds are formed, resulting in the release
of energy” (Jha, Amrendra). This is also why the substance is flammable,
because the easily triggered combustion process takes the form of burning.
Furthermore, Isopropyl alcohol is a very useful substance that can be used for
a wide variety of products. For example, “exposure to oxidizing agents like
chromic acid will convert isopropyl alcohol into acetone, while exposure to
heat and concentrated sulfuric acid can dehydrate isopropyl alcohol to form
propene” (Brennan, John). When mixed with water, isopropyl alcohol makes for a
very good disinfectant for surfaces, as well as an effective antiseptic for
wounds. Isopropyl Alcohol is a flammable, water-soluble liquid made by one of
two forms of hydration, and is very combustible, making it a very useful liquid
used in first aid, cleaners, and even fuel. 

Acetone is a colorless, volatile,
water-soluble, flammable liquid usually derived by oxidation of isopropyl
alcohol or by bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates ( The
molecules that make up acetone are composed of three atoms of carbon (C), six
atoms of hydrogen (H), and one atom of oxygen (O), making its chemical formula
C3H6O, a formula very similar to that of isopropyl alcohol, which is C3H8O.
Because carbon atoms are present in acetone’s chemical formula, acetone is
considered an organic compound. Furthermore, “acetone falls under the
classification of ketones, which are organic compounds containing a carbonyl
group, where carbon and oxygen are bonded to each other with a double bond” (
Acetone is known as the simplest ketone, as it has the most basic structure of
these bonds ( Acetone, known also as propanone, is produced in
multiple ways, including by the oxidation of isopropyl alcohol. As was
mentioned before, isopropyl alcohol will convert into acetone from exposure to
oxidizing agents, such as chromic acid. Such oxidizing agents react with the
substance in such a way that it actually changes into a new substance, that is,
acetone (Brennan, John). Another way that acetone is produced is by bacterial
fermentation, also known as acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation. In this
process, acetone and butanol are produced from glucose using strands of
Clostridia, which are strictly anaerobic bacteria. ABE fermentation produces
solvents in a ratio of three parts acetone, six parts butanol to one part
ethanol (Nujum, Noufal). Finally, acetone has
multiple uses, serving mainly as a cleaner or solvent. Acetone is an active
ingredient in many nail polish removers because of its powerful ability to
remove material. Because of this ability as well, it is used in paint removing
liquids for automobiles and furniture, too. It is widely used in the textile
industry for degreasing wool and degumming silk ( Acetone
is used in many products, though most all of these products utilize the
powerful ability it has as a solvent. Acetone is a flammable, water-soluble
liquid, produced by the oxidation of isopropyl alcohol or ABE fermentation, and
has a powerful ability as a solvent.

As each substance to be used in the
experiments has been clearly defined and explained, the steps for the
experiment may now be listed and understood. As was mentioned before, the
purpose of this experiment is to answer two questions, the two being “Which
chemical substance burns for the longest amount of time?” and “Which chemical
substance burns the cleanest?” Thus, to ensure the most accurate data possible,
a set of controlled experiments are held. Some items were purchased beforehand
in preparation for the experiments. Three of the same sized metal bowls, a
standard plastic barbeque lighter, metal measuring spoons (metal so that the
chemical substances, especially acetone, would not melt or damage the spoons),
and a stopwatch are included among these pre-purchased items. The experiment
was held in an outdoor patio at night, as night is the time of day where wind
is almost completely absent, and thus, cannot interfere with the results of the
experiment. Furthermore, each chemical was placed and ignited in the exact same
place in the patio, to ensure a fair and equally consistent burn process for
each liquid. After all the preparation is complete, it is time to begin the

This experiment is a controlled experiment,
each step being carefully and meticulously completed. Each substance was held
in its own respective bowl, to ensure that the chemical substances do not mix. Furthermore,
as the same fifteen-milliliter measuring spoon was used for each substance, it
was thoroughly washed after each time it was used to carry one of the
substances. The experiment starts with measuring fifteen milliliters of
gasoline and pouring it into its corresponding metal bowl. The experiment was
originally completed by using only five milliliters of each chemical substance
instead of fifteen, but the amount was changed so that the results would be
more accurate, as the larger the amount of each substance is used, the more
accurate the results can be, and thus the amount was changed to fifteen
milliliters. After the substance is poured into its bowl, all other flammable
liquids and materials are pushed far away, to guarantee that they do not catch
fire. After all safety precautions are set in place, the substance is ignited.
The gasoline is ignited with a plastic barbeque lighter that carries butane as
its fuel. The moment the gasoline ignites, the stopwatch is pressed, and the
combustion reaction is timed. When gasoline is first ignited, there is no
largely noticeable difference in the atmosphere. however, after just a few
seconds, it begins to give off black smoke, as well as an offensive odor. After
prolonged exposure to these, one might begin to experience discomfort in their
eyes and lungs, which is why it is important to wear proper safety equipment,
such as safety glasses and a respirator, as protection from the smoke. Just as
a larger amount of each substance can increase the accuracy of the results, the
more times an experiment is held, the more accurate the results will be. Thus,
each substance was tested five times, of which the middle three results are
included in the end results of the experiment. After being tested five times,
the middle three results for gasoline came to be two minutes and eight point
twenty-six seconds (128.26 seconds), two minutes and sixteen point zero four
seconds (136.04 seconds), and two minutes and thirty-three point seventy-six
seconds (153.76 seconds), averaging to about 139.35 seconds.

After experimentation with gasoline is
completed, it is time to move on to the next substance: isopropyl alcohol. The
isopropyl alcohol used in this experiment is ninety-two percent isopropyl
alcohol, meaning eight percent of it is water and the rest of it is alcohol. Experimentation
with isopropyl alcohol is done in the same way as was gasoline, only it is done
in a new, clean bowl and with a different substance, that is, isopropyl
alcohol. As was done with gasoline, the isopropyl alcohol is ignited at the
same time the stopwatch is pressed. Unlike the gasoline, the isopropyl alcohol
lets off no smoke or offensive fumes whatsoever. It does give off an odor, but
it is barely noticeable and is not offensive at all. The substance burns
cleanly, but the flame is much smaller and less prominent than that of the
gasoline. The end results of experimenting with isopropyl alcohol are three
minutes and twenty-seven point ninety-eight seconds (207.98 seconds), three
minutes and thirty-eight point eighty-five seconds (218.85 seconds), and three
minutes and eleven point sixteen seconds (191.16 seconds), averaging to about 206.00

Finally, the last substance to be tested is
acetone. Just as before, the acetone is tested in the same way the other
substances before it were, only in a new, clean bowl. As acetone evaporates
quickly, once it is poured into the bowl, it must be ignited quickly to obtain
consistent results. The acetone is ignited, and, at the same time, the
stopwatch is pressed. The acetone did not burn as dirtily as the gasoline, but
also not as cleanly as the alcohol. It was somewhere between the two. The
burning acetone did release some fumes, but they were mild and very tolerable.
When the final experiment with acetone was completed, the middle three results
ended up being one minute and forty-nine point ninety-eight seconds (109.98
seconds), one minute and forty-four point sixty-seven seconds (104.67 seconds),
and two minutes and two point twelve seconds (122.12 seconds), averaging to
about 112.26 seconds, making it the shortest lasting burn time of all the

In conclusion, the final results of these
experiments show that gasoline is not the longest burning, nor the cleanest
burning substance among the ones tested. It showed to be only the second
longest burning and it was the only substance to produce black smoke. Acetone,
which was tested last, burned cleanly, but lasted for the shortest amount of
time. Isopropyl alcohol, which was tested second, burned the longest and the
cleanest, releasing no smoke or harsh odors. These results show that the
original hypothesis has been disproven and rejected completely. A revised
hypothesis would be “if a measurement of alcohol were to be lit, it will burn
longer and more efficiently than the same measurement of gasoline or acetone
because of its purity and ease of combustion.” Furthermore, the questions for
which this experiment was held have been answered fully and with surety, and
the research and results derived from the processes of preparing for and
carrying out the experiment possess the capability of expanding one’s
understanding of each substance and of combustion reactions, an understanding
that may help impact society for the better if he applies what he learns to
scientific purposes. Such an understanding may be valuable to an engineer, a
biotechnician, an automotive person, or even just a student, as they can each
have a better understanding of the substances, of combustion reactions, and of
the scientific process after completing this experiment. As far as improving the
experiment, the only practical thing would be to find a more accurate method of
measuring the liquids, as it is very easy to accidentally spill some liquid
when handling a regular filled measuring spoon. Besides this, though, the
experiment method was practical and uses very common materials and substances.
This experiment explored the chemical structures of three substances, as well
as tested how each one combusts, leading to a better understanding of each
substance and how they react, an understanding that, if applied correctly, can
help greatly impact society for the better. 



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