Having disposed in a few words of a subject which, if fully treated, would occupy a long course of lectures by itself, I will pass on to the consideration of gas as at present used as a fuel.

There is no doubt that gas is the most convenient and in many ways one of the best forms of fuel for heating and cooking purposes, and the efforts which all large gas companies are now making to popularize and increase the use of gas for such purposes will undoubtedly bear fruit in the future. But before the day can come for gas to be used in this way on a large scale, there is one fact which the gas manager and gas stove manufacturer must clearly realize and submit to, and that is that no gas stove or gas water heater, of any construction, should be sent out or fitted without just as great care being taken to provide for the carrying away of the products of combustion as if an ordinary fuel range was being fitted. Do not for one moment allow yourself to be persuaded that, because a gas stove or geyser does not send out a mass of black smoke, the products of combustion can be neglected and with safety allowed to mingle with the atmosphere we are to breathe.

Scarcely a winter passes but one or more deaths are recorded from the products of combustion given off from various forms of water heaters used in bath rooms; scarcely a cookery class is given, with gas stoves, that one or more ladies do not have to leave suffering from an intense headache, and often in an almost fainting condition. And the same cause which brings about these extreme cases, on a smaller scale causes such physical discomfort to many delicately organized persons that a large class exist who absolutely and resolutely decline to have gas as an illuminant or fuel in any of their living rooms; and if the use of gas, more especially as fuel, is to be extended, and if gas is to hold its own in the future against such rivals as the electric light, then those interested in gas and gas stoves must face the problem, and by improving the methods of burning and using gas do away with the present serious drawbacks which exist to its use.

The feeling has gradually been gaining ground in the public mind that, when atmospheric burners and other devices for burning coal gas are employed for heating purposes, certain deleterious products of incomplete combustion find their way into the air, and that this takes place to a considerable extent is shown by the facts brought forward in a paper read by Mr. William Thomson before the last meeting of the British Association.

Mr. Thomson attempted to separate and determine the quantity of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons present in the flue gases from various forms of gas stoves and burners, but, like every other observer who has attempted to solve this most difficult problem, he found it so beset with difficulties that he had to abandon it, and contented himself with determining the total amounts of carbon and hydrogen escaping in an unburned condition, experiments which showed that the combustion of gas in stoves for heating purposes is much more incomplete than one had been in the habit of supposing, but his experiments give no clew as to whether the incompletely burned matter consisted of such deleterious gases as carbon monoxide and acetylene, or comparatively harmless gases, such as marsh gas and hydrogen. After considerable work upon the subject, I have succeeded in doing this by a very delicate process of analysis, and I now wish to lay some of my results before you.

If a cold substance, metal or non-metal, be placed in a flame, whether it be luminous or non-luminous, it will be observed that there is a clear space, in which no combustion is taking place, formed round the cool surface, and that as the body gets heated so this space gets less and less until, when the substance is at the same temperature as the flame itself, there is contact between the two. Moreover, when a luminous flame is employed in this experiment the space still exists between the cool body and the flame, but you also notice that the luminosity is decreased over a still larger area although the flame exists.

This meaning that, in immediate contact with the cold body, the temperature is so reduced that the flame cannot exist, and so is extinguished over a small area; while over a still larger space the temperature is so reduced that it is not hot enough to bring about decomposition of the heavy hydrocarbons with liberation of carbon to the same extent as in hotter portions of the flame. Now, inasmuch as when water is heated or boiled in an open vessel, the temperature cannot rise above 100°C., and as the temperature of an ordinary flame is over 1,000°C., it is evident that the burning gas can never be in contact with the bottom of the vessel, or, in other words, the gas is put out before combustion is completed, and the unburned gas and products of incomplete combustion find their way into the air and render it perfectly unfit for respiration.

The portion of the flame which is supposed to be the hottest is about half an inch above the tip of the inner zone of the flame, and it is at this point that most vessels containing water to be heated are made to impinge on the flame; and it is this portion of the flame, also, which is utilized for raising various solids to a temperature at which they radiate heat.

In order to gain an insight into the amount of contamination which the air undergoes when a geyser or cooking stove is at work, I have determined the composition of the products of combustion, and the unburned gases escaping when a vessel containing water at the ordinary temperatures is heated up to the boiling point by a gas flame, the vessel being placed, in the first case, half an inch above the inner cone of the flame, and in the second, at the extreme outer tip of the flame.


Bunsen flame.Luminous flame.
Water vapor13.4714.2911.8019.24
Carbon dioxide2.995.134.938.38
Carbon monoxide3.69Nil.2.452.58
Marsh gas0.510.310.950.39