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Which gas burns with blue flame?

When it comes to fire and flame color, many people are familiar with the bright red-orange glow of a campfire or candle flame. However, under certain conditions, some gases can burn with a distinctive blue color. Understanding what gives flames their different hues and which gases burn blue can be informative from both a scientific and practical perspective.

What Determines Flame Color?

The color of a flame is dependent on multiple factors:

  • The fuel source – Different fuels release different amounts of energy and produce different byproducts when burned.
  • Temperature – Hotter flames tend to burn blue or white, while cooler flames appear red or orange.
  • Chemical composition – The production of excited electrons in different metal ions is responsible for flame coloration.
  • Air-fuel ratio – More complete combustion occurs with an optimal air-fuel mixture, affecting flame temperature.

When something burns, it undergoes combustion – a high-temperature exothermic chemical reaction between a fuel and an oxidant, usually oxygen. This releases energy in the form of light and heat. The most familiar form of combustion is fire.

The color of fire depends on what is burning and the temperature. Hotter flames burn at higher temperatures and tend to be blue or white, while cooler flames appear red, orange, or yellow. This relationship between temperature and color is why hotter areas of a flame are blue and cooler areas appear reddish-orange.

What Causes the Different Flame Colors?

Specifically, flame color is produced by the presence of excited electrons in the flame. Here is a more in-depth look at the science behind flame color:

  • Red and orange flames – These colors are emitted by excited electrons in small carbon particles, produced when long hydrocarbon chains in the fuel break down during combustion.
  • Yellow flames – Sodium atoms in the flame produce yellow light. This comes from the excitation of electrons in sodium (Na) atoms.
  • Blue flames – These are due to excited electrons in small oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur particles, as well as hydrocarbon radicals like CH and C2.
  • Violet flames – Potassium salts produce violet flames when heated. This color comes from excited potassium (K) atoms.
  • Green flames – The green color is created by excited copper (Cu) atoms. The element boron (B) also produces green flames.

The key takeaway is that excited electrons in different metal ions are responsible for producing the various flame colors. The color depends on the particular electronic transitions of the metals present in the flame.

Why Do Some Gases Burn with a Blue Flame?

As covered above, blue flame color is attributed to excited molecular fragments like CH and C2, produced when small hydrocarbons break down in the flame. Additionally, excited electrons in monoatomic gas particles like oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), and sulfur (S) emit blue light when transitioning between energy states.

Gases that burn with a blue flame tend to have less carbon and more hydrogen than gases that burn orange. During combustion, the carbon-hydrogen bonds break and the hydrogen atoms produce H2O while the carbon forms CO2. If there is less carbon, the flame is hotter and blue.

Examples of gases that burn with a characteristic blue flame include:

  • Hydrogen (H2) – Burns with a pale blue flame.
  • Methane (CH4) – Natural gas, burns with a blue flame.
  • Propane (C3H8) – Emits a blue flame when burnt.
  • Butane (C4H10) – Found in lighter fluid, burns with a hot blue flame.
  • Acetylene (C2H2) – Used for welding, produces a very hot blue flame.

These gases all have high hydrogen-to-carbon ratios and thus burn hotter and more cleanly, resulting in blue flame colors. The blue color is indicative of complete combustion.

Which Gas Burns Bluest?

Of the common gaseous fuels, acetylene (C2H2) emits the bluest flame when burnt in air. There are two key reasons for this:

  1. Acetylene has a very high hydrogen-to-carbon ratio. Combustion of acetylene releases a large amount of energy due to its highly exothermic reaction breaking carbon-hydrogen bonds and forming carbon dioxide and water.
  2. The adiabatic flame temperature of acetylene is very high, reaching up to 3,263°C in pure oxygen. This extreme temperature shifts the emission spectrum toward shorter wavelengths in the visible spectrum, causing an intense blue color.

Gas flame temperatures and corresponding colors:

Gas Adiabatic Flame Temperature (°C) Typical Flame Color
Methane 1,995 Blue
Propane 1,977 Blue
Butane 1,977 Blue
Acetylene 3,263 Bright blue
Hydrogen 2,406 Pale blue

As shown above, acetylene has by far the hottest flame temperature, resulting in an exceptionally bright blue color. The hotter the flame, the bluer it appears.

Blue Flame Temperatures

While the adiabatic flame temperature provides a measure of a gas’s theoretical maximum temperature, in reality flame temperatures are a bit lower. Here are some real-world flame temperatures for gases that burn blue:

  • Acetylene – 1,980-2,750°C
  • Hydrogen – 1,702-2,192°C
  • Methane – 1,650-1,900°C
  • Propane – 1,930-2,090°C
  • Butane – 1,870-1,977°C

Even with variations in actual flame temperature based on conditions like oxygen availability, these gases burn hot enough to emit blue light. For reference, a standard butane lighter flame reaches about 1,977°C and a propane torch flame can exceed 2,000°C.

Why Does Flame Temperature Matter?

The flame temperature of a gas has practical importance for several reasons:

  • It determines the color and radiant heat output of the flame.
  • Higher temperatures allow for more complete combustion of the fuel.
  • It affects what applications the gas may be suitable for, such as cooking, heating, or welding.
  • Hotter flames require less gas flow to provide equivalent heat energy.
  • Flame temperature impacts the rate of wear on equipment like burner nozzles.

In general, gases with higher flame temperatures and more complete combustion are preferable for high heat applications like metal fabrication. The intense bluish color of an acetylene flame is an indicator of its impressively high combustion temperature.

How Are Blue Burning Gases Used?

The clean-burning blue flame of gases like methane, propane, hydrogen, and acetylene makes them well-suited to a variety of applications.

  • Cooking – Natural gas (mostly methane) and propane are commonly used fuels for stovetop cooking appliances. Their blue flames reach optimal cooking temperatures.
  • Heating – Methane and propane are both utilized in central heating systems and space heaters due to their high heat output and efficient blue flame combustion.
  • Welding and cutting – Acetylene’s extremely hot flame enables it to be used in oxyacetylene welding and cutting torches.
  • Portable heating – Butane is the gas used in disposable lighters and portable stoves due to its reliably blue, hot flame.
  • Laboratory uses – The clean, easily adjustable flames of hydrogen and methane lend themselves well to laboratory burner applications.

The blue color indicates these gases are burning cleanly and completely, making them preferred options for heating related purposes where colorless flames and high temperatures are beneficial.

Blue Flame vs. Orange Flame

There are some notable differences between gases that burn with blue flames vs. those with orange flames:

Blue Flame Orange Flame
  • High ratio of hydrogen to carbon
  • Burns hot, 1,650°C+
  • More complete combustion
  • Very little soot produced
  • Examples: Natural gas, propane, acetylene
  • Contains more carbon-rich compounds
  • Burns cooler, 500-1,000°C range
  • Less complete combustion
  • Produces more soot particles
  • Examples: Wood, candle wax, coal

While orange flames can still release usable energy, blue flame gases tend to burn cleaner, hotter, and more efficiently. This makes them preferable for applications like cooking where high temperatures and low soot are desired.

What Gives Flames Their Orange/Yellow Color?

There are a couple factors that cause some flames to burn orange or yellow instead of blue:

  1. Presence of small carbon particles – These glow red/orange due to blackbody radiation.
  2. Excitation of sodium (Na) atoms – Sodium produces the characteristic yellow color in flames.
  3. Incomplete combustion – Allows more hydrocarbon fragments like CH and C2 to form.
  4. Lower flame temperatures – More energy emitted as lower frequency red/orange light.

Essentially, cooler and less efficient combustion of fuels containing more complex hydrocarbons and impurities like soot leads to the orange/yellow colors. This is why propane burns orange if the air-fuel mixture isn’t optimized.

Tips for Achieving Blue Flame Combustion

Here are some tips for achieving clean blue flame combustion when burning gases:

  • Use the proper air-fuel mixture – Blue flames require an optimal fuel-air ratio for full combustion.
  • Select fuels with high hydrogen content – Methane, propane, butane, acetylene, hydrogen.
  • Pre-heat incoming air/gas – Raises temperature for better combustion.
  • Use adequate ventilation – Ensures plenty of oxygen to support complete burning.
  • Keep equipment clean – Prevent carbon build-up that can cause orange flame.
  • Consider flame temperature – Higher temps shift toward blue wavelength emissions.

Adjusting the stoichiometry and adiabatic flame temperature are the main methods for producing blue flames with clean, high-efficiency combustion.


In summary, blue flame color is characteristic of gases containing high levels of hydrogen relative to carbon. The blue results from excited molecular fragments like CH and hot monoatomic particles emitting specific wavelengths of light. Acetylene produces the bluest flame when burned in air, reaching temperatures above 3,000°C. Other common blue flame gases are methane, propane, butane, and hydrogen.

The blue color indicates optimal combustion conditions for clean and efficient burning. This makes these gases well-suited to high temperature applications like welding, laboratory burners, cooking, and heating. Bluer flames tend to burn hotter and with less soot than orange/yellow flames, making them the preferable option when possible.