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Combustion Reactions

Substance reacts with oxygen gas, releasing energy in the form of light and heat

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The Dirty Truck and the Clean Car

Why is the Toyota Camry greener than the trailer?

License: CC BY-NC 3.0
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

In a combustion reaction, a substance reacts with oxygen to produce flame. You may not realize it, but almost every day you are near combustion reactions. Most cars are powered by an internal combustion engine, with the exception of battery-powered electric cars. Therefore, a combustion reaction takes place in a car.

While you are driving on the freeway, you notice that an empty large trailer puffs out lots of gas. You then pay attention to a Toyota Camry and see that there is practically nothing coming out of the exhaust pipe. So why exactly is there a difference between the exhaust from the Toyota Camry and that from the large empty trailer?

Creative Applications

1. Both of the vehicles use fuel to power their engines, but which one has a more complex chemical formula (a longer hydrocarbon chain, as you may recall)? (Hint: The truck uses diesel while the Toyota Camry uses gasoline. Do some research on diesel and gasoline)

2. Why do larger vehicles use diesel for fuel? Why can’t all vehicles just use gasoline?

3. A combustion reaction occurs in both the Toyota Camry and the large trailer to produce the energy needed for driving. Write balanced equations modeling the combustion reactions happening in the two vehicles. (Use C8H18 for gasoline and C12H23 for diesel)

4. How do the combustion equations relate back to the amount of smoke we see coming out of the exhaust pipe? (Assume that both vehicles undergo complete combustion)



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  1. [1]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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