Humans have been making practical use of combustion for millennia. Cooking food and heating homes have long been two major applications of the combustion reaction. With the development of the steam engine by Denis Papin, Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomen, and others at the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, a new use for combustion was found: performing work. Those first engines employed the combustion of some material, usually coal, to produce heat that was used to boil water. The steam produced was then able to move pistons and drive machinery. That concept is essentially the same one used today to operate fossil-fueled electrical power plants.
Before long, inventors found ways to use steam engines in transportation, especially in railroad engines and steam ships. However, it was not until the discovery of a new type of fuel—gasoline and its chemical relatives—and a new type of engine—the internal combustion engine—that the modern face of transportation was achieved. Today, most forms of transportation depend on the combustion of a hydrocarbon fuel such as gasoline, kerosene, or diesel oil to produce the energy that drives pistons and moves the vehicles on which modern society depends.
When considering how fuels are burned during the combustion process, "stationary" and "explosive" flames are treated as two distinct types of combustion. In stationary combustion, as generally seen in gas or oil burners, the mixture of fuel and oxidizer flows toward the flame at a proper speed to maintain the position of the flame. The fuel can be either premixed with air or introduced separately into the combustion region. An explosive flame, on the other hand, occurs in a homogeneous mixture of fuel and air in which the flame moves rapidly through the combustible mixture. Burning in the cylinder of a gasoline engine belongs to this category. Overall, both chemical and physical processes are combined in combustion, and the dominant process depends on very diverse burning conditions.