Effect of oxygen on the burning rate of wood

Franz Richter, Freddy X. Jervis, Xinyan Huang, Guillermo Rein

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The large-scale adoption of wood as a construction material for tall buildings could pave the way for sustainable construction. Its adoption, however, is hindered by a limited understanding of wood's behaviour in a fire. In particular, the effect of oxygen and heat flux on the burning (including pyrolysis) and ignition behaviour of wood is poorly understood. We addressed this gap by studying the effect of oxygen concentration and heat flux on the burning and ignition behaviour of particleboard experimentally and computationally. Particleboard was chosen as a proxy for all woody construction materials. We conducted over 60 experiments in an FPA on samples of particleboard spanning different oxygen concentrations (0–21%), heat fluxes (10–70 kW/m2), sample densities (600–800 kg/m2), and sample thicknesses (6–25 mm). Only the heat flux and oxygen concentration significantly affected the charring rate, time-to-flaming ignition, and burning mode (pyrolysis, smouldering, flaming). To explore this effect further, we used a multi-physics model of particleboard charring developed in Gpyro. Combining the computational and experimental results, we showed that particleboard undergoes only pyrolysis in oxygen concentrations below 4%, smouldering between 4 and 15%, and flaming above 15% at a heat flux of 30 kW/m2. These oxygen concentration thresholds were found to decrease as the heat flux increases. We also showed that smouldering and flaming increases the charring rate by 25 and 37%, respectively. This means that the rate of loss of a section of structural wood, quantified by the charring rate, in a fire due to smouldering is similar to that of flaming combustion. In addition, we noted the existence of a triple point for the ignition of wood at which a slight change in environmental conditions can lead to either smouldering, flaming, or only pyrolysis. In summary, this paper quantified for the first time the contributions of the three modes of burning to the charring rate of wood and highlights the importance of smouldering for timber construction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111591
JournalCombustion and Flame
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Biomass
  • Charring
  • Fire
  • Smouldering
  • Timber

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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