Difference Between Burning and Combustion

Main Difference – Burning vs Combustion

Combustion typically refers to the process of burning something. It is an exothermic reaction which releases heat and light as energy forms. Combustion reactions generally take place when a hydrocarbon or a fuel reacts with oxygen. In other words, hydrocarbons are oxidized by molecular oxygen. Combustion reactions can occur as either complete combustions or incomplete combustions. Both methods form byproducts such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and water (H2O). Burning is also a type of combustion. The main difference between burning and combustion is that burning essentially cause the creation of a flame whereas combustion may or may not create a flame.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Burning
      – Definition, Properties, Examples
2. What is Combustion
      – Definition, Properties, Complete and Incomplete Combustion, Examples
3. What are the Similarities Between Burning and Combustion
      – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Burning and Combustion
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Burning, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Combustion, Complete Combustion, Flame, Incomplete CombustionDifference Between Burning and Combustion - Comparison Summary

What is Burning

Burning refers to setting something on fire. In order to burn something, there should be three things: a flammable material, oxygen, and fire. The major characteristic of burning is the creation of a flame. When a flammable material is burnt, a flame appears. The color of the flame depends on the amount of oxygen present and the type of material that is going to be burnt.

Burning is a type of combustion since a material is oxidized by molecular oxygen and form byproducts such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dust or soot (C) and water (H2O). If the combustion reaction that occurs in burning is a complete oxidation, then the flame is blue colored. But if it is an incomplete combustion, the flame would be a yellow-orange colored one.

Difference Between Burning and Combustion

Figure 1: Burning of wood results in a yellow colored flame.

The heat energy produced by burning is comparatively less. This is because some of the energy is released as light energy due to the formation of a flame. Burning causes the formation of smoke. Burning of wood causes the formation of wood smoke. This smoke is composed of tiny particles which are unburnt. Smoke is a result of incomplete combustion.

What is Combustion

Combustion is a chemical reaction that involves the oxidation of a fuel. This is an exothermic reaction, which releases heat and light as energy forms. The combustion occurs in the presence of oxygen. Therefore, molecular oxygen act as the oxidizing agent.

Combustion may occur in two ways: complete combustion or incomplete combustion. Generally, complete combustion is characterized by a blue flame whereas incomplete combustion is characterized by yellow colored flame. However, combustion reactions do not always produce a flame. When a flame is not formed, that combustion yields a high amount of energy. This is because almost all the energy produced from the combustion is turned into heat, not light.

Main Difference - Burning vs Combustion

Figure 2: Petrol can undergo combustion without forming a flame. Therefore it is used in vehicle engines.

The complete combustion mainly results in carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). Incomplete combustion reactions result in carbon monoxide (CO) and water along with snoot. Both flammable substances and inflammable substances can undergo combustion. Inflammable substances such as petrol do not form a flame but are oxidized by oxygen.

Similarities Between Burning and Combustion

  • Burning is also a type of combustion reaction.
  • Both burning and combustion give byproducts such as CO2, CO, and H2
  • Both reactions release heat energy.
  • Both types involve oxidation of a material by oxygen.

Difference Between Burning and Combustion

Definition

Burning: Burning is setting something on fire.

Combustion: Combustion is a chemical reaction that involves the oxidation of a fuel.

Flame

Burning: Burning always creates a flame.

Combustion: Combustion may or may not create a flame.

Heat Energy

Burning: Burning forms a low amount of heat energy.

Combustion: Combustion forms a high amount of energy.

Light Energy

Burning: Burning always produce light energy.

Combustion: Combustion may or may not form light as an energy form.

Summary – Burning vs Combustion 

Burning and combustion are often the same. The main difference between burning and combustion is the formation of a flame. Combustion reactions that form a flame can be grouped as burnings. However, both burning and combustion produce heat energy. The heat energy produced by combustion reactions are mainly used in industrial purposes. Heat energy produced from burning is mainly used to fulfill household needs, such as wood burning for cooking purposes.

References:

1.” Combustion.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., n.d. Web. Available here. 24 July 2017. 
2. “Combustion .” Amrita Vidyalayam eLearning Network. N.p., n.d. Web. Available here. 24 July 2017.

Image Courtesy:

1. “184885” (Public Domain) via Pixaby
2. “FillingUpCNG” By Andreas Geick – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Madhusha

Madhusha is a BSc (Hons) graduate in the field of Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing for her Masters in Industrial and Environmental Chemistry. Her interest areas for writing and research include Biochemistry and Environmental Chemistry.

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