Assessing the Hazard of Marginally Explosible Dusts

Safety and Health Division
AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
April 30, 2013 - 10:45am-11:15am

With the current focus on combustible dust hazards in industry, an increasing number of dusts are being tested by facilities to determine their explosibility. For marginally explosible dusts (MEDs) with low Pmax and KSt values, it can be a difficult task to determine if the material is truly explosible, and if so, what level of protection is required for a specific process. In this paper we address ways to measure the explosibility of the MED and to analyze the consequences of a deflagration involving an MED in an enclosure.

Explosibility screening tests are often performed in a spherical 20-L vessel using strong pyrotechnic igniters, in accordance with ASTM E1226 Standard Test Method for Explosibility of Dust Clouds. The 20-L vessel was original designed by Siwek to correlate with data in the 50 times larger 1-m3 (1,000 L) vessel, while requiring less dust and time to perform testing. Previous studies have shown that some MEDs may appear to be explosible when tested in the 20-L vessel but non-explosible when tested in the 1-m3 vessel. This phenomenon has been attributed to ?overdriving? by the strong chemical igniters in the 20-L vessel. The 1-m3 vessel is seen as a more reliable vessel to determine whether a deflagration will propagate through a cloud of MED because of the lower chance of overdriving in the larger vessel. It has been hypothesized that overdriving may be relevant to situations that can occur in industry involving strong ignition sources, such as an initial gas or hybrid explosion which then propagates through a combustible dust.

In this study, we review existing literature comparing tests of MEDs in both the 20-L and 1-m3 vessels. We also present new test data of MEDs in both vessels for organic and metal dusts. We find that many of these dusts are explosible in the 20-L vessel but not the 1-m3 vessel. However, we also find that some of these low KSt materials are explosible in both vessels, and may produce higher Pmax and KSt values in the 1-m3 vessel. For dusts that have tested as explosible in the 20-L vessel, but not the 1-m3 vessel, we conduct additional testing with smaller energy pyrotechnic igniters to determine the igniter energy that matches data from the 1-m3 vessel. Similar to previous studies, we find that the ignition energy required to match 1-m3 date varies for different dusts.

Hybrid (flammable gas and dust) explosion tests are performed on MEDs in the 20-L vessel, using a spark igniter and lean mixtures of flammable gas to determine if the dust will contribute to the severity of a gas explosion. We find that some MEDs have little effect or decrease the maximum overpressure and rate of pressure rise of the hybrid mixture, relative to a lean gas explosion. In contrast, similar hybrid explosions performed with more explosible dusts significantly increase the maximum overpressure and rate of pressure rise of the hybrid mixture, relative to a lean gas explosion. We also measure the amount of gas necessary to cause a deflagration using a spark igniter with the MED. These type of hybrid explosions are compared to possible ignition scenarios in industry. We propose that these methods can be used to evaluate the potential of MEDs to contribute to gas explosions.

Finally, vented deflagration calculations are performed on MEDs in enclosures. The analysis shows that for some enclosures with existing openings, a deflagration of an MED with a low Pmax and KSt value will not produce a damage causing overpressure and no additional explosion venting is required. However, the deflagration will still produce fireballs that can create a thermal hazard to personnel and property.

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