You might have heard that oxygen kindles a fire or some combustible substances burn in the presence of oxygen. Well, you got the right message, however, have you ever wondered if oxygen causes objects to burn on account of being flammable itself? Today, we will inspect oxygen, discover whether oxygen is combustible, and address some queries you probably have in mind.
Now, What Is Oxygen?
Oxygen, also known as an “acid-producer,” is an element that occupies approximately 21% of atmospheric air by volume and 33% of dissolved air by volume. Two legendary scientists, Scheele and Priestley, initially discovered oxygen.
These scientists described oxygen as a gaseous element that reacts readily with other non-metals to form an acid. Perhaps this is one of the critical reasons oxygen is present in almost all acids and is referred to as an acid producer.
Not long after, Lavoisier carried out some experiments on oxygen and discovered that this gas is a major agent that influences combustion. Without oxygen, materials can not undergo combustion, no matter how flammable they are.
So, since oxygen is the most plentiful element of the earth’s crust, it is always available in the atmosphere. Thus, oxygen can create an enabling environment by acting as an oxidizing agent (or oxidizer) and causing any substance to burn in the right conditions.
But is oxygen itself flammable? And will it burn? Let’s find out in the next section.
Is Oxygen Flammable?
Even though oxygen supports combustion (that is, it is required for many substances to burn), oxygen itself does not burn.
Pure oxygen makes it easier for some substances to catch blaze and burn hastily at low temperatures. Meanwhile, it doesn’t ignite itself. And fires pioneered by oxygen result in an explosion with time.
Moreso, oxygen causes substances to burn at a certain percentage. Remember, atmospheric air comprises 21% oxygen and other gases.
Therefore, before a substance can ignite, it requires at least 16% volume of oxygen, which is easily attainable. So when flammable substances like sap are exposed to air, in the presence of an open blaze, it’s only a matter of time before they catch fire and burn.
Is Oxygen Explosive?
Yes, oxygen is explosive. Although oxygen gas will not catch flames, it can, however, spur other substances to ignite.
And anything that burns quickly and steadily is likely to explode as time goes on. Besides, oxygen gas, especially when supplied in high amounts, is a high-energy gas that oxidizes other substances easily.
Thus, an explosion will occur if oxygen reacts with a substance inferior in oxidizing ability to oxygen (these substances are readily oxidized). Examples of the common substances that undergo oxidation faster include fuel, and hydrocarbon gases such as butane, propane, etc.
Can Oxygen Make Substances Burn?
Oxygen is an element of fire. So, before a substance can be flammable, it must react readily with oxygen.
By this, we mean that a substance needs to be oxidized by oxygen before it can burn.
And since oxygen is an abundant element on earth, we can never run out of it. This is one of the primary reasons alcohols like Brandy are flammable.
Typically, alcohol or liquor is made up of ethanol and water. Liquors with higher alcoholic proof are flammable, while those with lower proof are fairly flammable.
However, in both cases, oxygen must be present before combustion can occur. Now, here is the junction where the differences between flammable materials and non-flammable materials will surface.
The ethanol in liquors will react with oxygen because it is made of carbon atoms. Ethanol will then become oxidized, giving off carbon dioxide gas as a byproduct.
So, at the point when ethanol rapidly transforms into carbon dioxide gas, combustion is ongoing. Unlike flammable substances, non-flammable substances will not react with oxygen.
Also, note that all flammable substances are volatile substances, eg, hydrocarbons. This is because only volatile substances cling to oxygen, reacting to it.
Can The Sun Burn Without Oxygen?
Sure, it can! Unlike other substances, the sun doesn’t require oxygen before it burns and, in fact, it can perfectly burn in the absence of oxygen.
Why does the sun behave differently? The reason is quite clear. The burning effect of the sun is not a result of chemical combustion like most flammable substances.
Instead, the sun undergoes a different reaction known as “nuclear fusion” to produce fire. Nuclear fusion occurs when two or more nuclei fuse or merge to produce a heavy nucleus.
The reaction between two hydrogen atoms to form a heavier atom, say a helium atom, is a typical illustration of nuclear fusion. Moreso, the entire process of nuclear fusion does not require oxygen or any other materials to thrive.
Nuclear fusion only needs adequate pressure and extremely high temperatures to occur within the sun. And since the sun is always hot, it won’t be difficult for nuclear fusion to take place.
Is Liquid Oxygen Flammable?
No, liquid oxygen is not flammable, but you need to be careful while handling it. Liquid oxygen (LOx) is the same as the normal oxygen we know. The only difference is that liquid oxygen is in its compressed form.
Pure oxygen has been pressurized and changed from the gaseous state to the liquid state. Liquid oxygen is non-flammable and non-combustible, but that does not mean you can handle it with levity.
Keep in mind that liquid oxygen can incite a more dangerous fire than ordinary oxygen. Hence, liquid oxygen containers or storage tanks should be kept away from all sources of ignition, sparks, or naked fires.
In a nutshell, oxygen encourages burning, but it does not burn itself. This article features all you need to know about oxygen, including how it is discovered, its abundance on earth, and its flammability.
Study this guide repeatedly to fully understand the concept of oxygen and how it works. You can also visit here to read more about the uses of oxygen.