Beyond Chemistry Class – Natural Gas and Bunsen Burners

Many of us can remember high school chemistry class well, going into the lab, donning safety goggles, turning on a Bunsen burner with a spark lighter (and the help of a teacher), adjusting the flame until it was blue, and finally getting to the experiment…boiling different chemicals in beakers or whatever project was at hand. For those who don’t remember, or never took chemistry, suffice it to say it was an adventure.

Bunsen burners are an overlooked example of how we use natural gas today, not just to heat our homes, cook our food and dry our clothes, but also to educate. As 180 million Americans rely on natural gas in their homes today, it’s a safe bet that many of them are unaware that the Bunsen burner was a predecessor to the widespread deployment of gas stoves in American homes. Coal stoves were the dominant force in home cooking when the Bunsen burner was invented, but nearly fifty years later, gas stoves outpaced coal stoves two-to-one.

Robert Bunsen invented the burner that bears his name in 1885. He managed to create a device that mixed natural gas with air in the right proportions, creating a flame that could be safely used for cooking and heating. The invention of the Bunsen burner opened up new opportunities for the use of natural gas in America, and throughout the world. The invention of temperature-regulating thermostatic devices allowed for better use of the heating potential of natural gas, allowing the temperature of the flame to be adjusted and monitored.

The natural gas industry has come a long way since the early days of the Bunsen burner, but to this day its influence can be felt in our daily lives. When you turn on your natural gas stove to cook your favorite recipe, like one from you can adjust the temperature and flame used to cook your food with the turn of a knob—the same temperature control used with Bunsen burners that is adored by chefs and home cooks alike.

Homeowners with natural gas furnaces also benefit from the simple innovations of the Bunsen burner. When a technician comes to light your pilot light on a gas furnace, that blue flame lets them, and you, know that things are running smoothly. And you can feel good that your use of natural gas for heating, cooking, and clothes drying saves you an average of $879 per year compared to homes using electricity for those applications.

So, while you might not be heating beakers in chemistry class anymore, those of us who use natural gas in homes are still benefiting from the Bunsen burner today.

Happy National Bunsen Burner Day.