What is combustion?

  • Combustion is the scientific word for burning.

  • In a combustion reaction a substance reacts with oxygen from the air and transfers energy to the surroundings as light and heat.

  • The products of a combustion reaction are called oxides.

A case study video showing how combustion occurs.

How is combustion useful?

Combustion is the scientific word for burning. In a combustion reaction, a substance reacts with oxygen from the air. Combustion reactions happen at high temperatures, and transfer energy to the surroundings as light and heat. This is why you see flames when things burn.

One important combustion reaction is that of methane. Methane reacts with oxygen from the air and produces either a hot blue or an orange flame. The energy that the reaction produces can be used to heat water, cook food, generate electricity or even power vehicles.

The products of combustion reactions are compounds of oxygen, called oxides. Since methane is made up of atoms of carbon and hydrogen, the products of its combustion reaction are oxides of carbon and hydrogen. The names of these oxides are carbon dioxide and water.

A model of the reaction of methane and oxygen.