Harvard researchers believe firefighters could one day control and even extinguish fires using a gun that fires electricity.
The project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Energy, investigated what’s said to be a 200-year-old observation that electricity can affect a flame’s shape, a point that hasn’t previously been the subject of much research.
Ludovico Cademartiri, who led the project and presented a report to the American Chemical Society, says researchers were able to extinguish a foot-high flame using a beam of electricity from a 600 watt amplifier — described as around the same power as a car stereo system.
The technique works chemically and takes advantage of the way a fire generates soot, made up of carbon particles. Because these are so easy to charge, the electrical field creates a response that makes the flames unstable and ultimately unsustainable.
The system works best on smaller fires, particularly those in tightly confined spaces. But the theory is that the technique wouldn’t necessarily have to be used in large-scale devices to control the full fire.
Cademartiri believes as little as 60 watts could be enough to create the same effect, meaning firefighters could use a backpack/handheld wand combination to deliver the electricity. That would be enough to manipulate a fire to create a safe entry and exit route for both firefighters and those being rescued.
Accord to Cademartiri, it’s also possible to manipulate rather than extinguish flames using the technique, which might be adapted for use such as greater precision in welding torches or even car engines.