heat of combustion, heat released during combustion. In particular, it is the amount of heat released when a given amount (usually 1 mole) of a combustible pure substance is burned to form incombustible products (e.g., water and carbon dioxide); this amount of heat is a characteristic of the substance. Heats of combustion are used as a basis for comparing the heating value of fuels, since the fuel that produces the greater amount of heat for a given cost is the more economic. Heats of combustion are also used in comparing the stabilities of chemical compounds. For example, if equal quantities of two isomeric hydrocarbons burn to produce equal amounts of carbon dioxide and water, the one releasing more energy (i.e., with the higher heat of combustion) is the less stable, since it was the more energetic in its compounded form.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.