Scientists from the University of Maryland discovered a new kind of flame, dubbed as "blue whirl," capable of cleaning oil spills efficiently with lower carbon emissions.

Their discovery, described in a paper published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, is typically a smaller and more stable kind of fire tornado or fire whirls.

"A fire tornado has long been seen as this incredibly scary, destructive thing," said Michael Gollner, assistant professor of fire protection engineering and co-author of the paper, in a statement. "But, like electricity, can you harness it for good? If we can understand it, then maybe we can control and use it."

 A usual fire tornado occurring in forest fire or urban fire burns with a yellow color due to incomplete consumption of its fuel, primarily due to lack of oxygen, producing sooth. On the other hand, blue whirl have more access to oxygen leading to complete combustion of their fuel resulting quicker and cleaner burning.

To determine the practical use of blue whirls, researchers simulated an oil spill in the lab by pumping stream of heptanes gas into a tray of water. The researchers observed that as the yellow swirl becomes more stabled and settled it turns to blue. This means that there is enough oxygen for complete combustion.

The researchers believe that the blue whirl is formed due to water barrier. Unlike whirls in land that reaches all the way down to the ground, blue whirls sits above the water, which is likely caused by layer of evaporated fuel mixed in the air. With the circulation generated by the fire whirl, the premixed fuel is being sucked up by the vortex, giving the flame the fuel it needs.

The lab-generated blue swirl was able to maintain its flame for about eight minutes. Researchers believe that they can sustain the blue flame for longer periods and produced it in a larger scale. However, until that time come, their discovery can be used as natural research platform for the future study of vortices and vortex breakdown in liquid mechanics.