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Boilover in Storage Tanks: Occurrence, Consequences and Predictions
Mojtaba Mirdrikvand, Ali Cheshmeh Roshan, Masoud Mahmoudi Research Center; Researcher; Petroleum University of Technology; North Bowarde, Abadan, Iran
Department of Chemical Engineering‚ University of Kashan ‚ Kashan Iran
Huge storage tanks containing crude oil and petrochemicals have always been a great threat to refineries and petrochemical companies. Due to their big capacities and possibility of fire occurrence, they were widely studied by scientists in the world. Boilover phenomenon that indicates fire initiation in water bed and its spread in a big area is one of the most important examples of fire incidents. Undoubtedly, it is significant for scientists to find the most effective and economical way to predict the occurrence of boilover, prevent the quick spread of boilover fire, and decrease the fire loss to a possible extent. This article reviews most of the works that have been done on boilover. It’s aimed to demonstrate the serious hazards of boilover, the theory of its occurrence, and introduce the most optimized available methods to predict it and the best ways to mitigate the results if the accident happens.
Key Words: Boilover, storage tanks, crude oil
the processes of the isothermal layer formation and its growth are still unknown. It will also demonstrate possible ways to predict the advent of boilover. high volatility and fluidity of crude oil.American Journal of Oil and Chemical Technologies ISSN Print: 2326. 2. internal (covered) floating roof. the process of its occurrence and the possible ways to mitigate its damages. Burgoyne and Katan. It should not be assumed that it will not occur until the fire has been burning for some considerable time and that the water bottom is the only water in the tank. Due to low flash point.  It is one of the most hazardous aspects of oil storage facility fires. Online: 2326. oil storage facilities and the possible risks of fires have always been a great concern. if crude oil in a large tank is left to burn it will boil over. smaller low-pressure vertical or horizontal tanks. The initial thickness of the fuel layer and the average temperature are the factors that influence the proposed correlation. A sudden vaporization of water might occur when the lower boundary of the isothermal layer reaches a layer of water on the bottom of the tank. It’s been done to increase our knowledge about the basic hazards of boilover. Ferrero proposed a mathematical correlation to predict the initial velocity of the convection currents during the process of combustion in hydrocarbon mixtures. the threats that it poses to the environment and the consequences of this phenomenon have been studied in researches done by Koseki.10] The tank fire types and escalations are depicted in Fig. This correlation provides values that may help future analyses for predicting the type of boilover and its likelihood.6589 Page: 13-21 ! 1. and Hall [3-7]. Physical characteristics of the product stored in a tank and the tank’s location are the factors that specify which storage tank type must be used for a special flammable or combustible liquid. They indicated that a condition necessary for boilover was the formation of an isothermal layer in the burning liquid. or in underground tanks. a heat wave in downward direction is propagated from burning of a mixture of hydrocarbons. It can result in large quantities of oil being violently ejected even beyond the containment bund. opentop (external) floating roof. Boilover is a potential escalation route to multiple tank/bund incidents and a major hazard to fire fighters.  Figure 2 shows the potential tank fire scenarios in a storage tank. Hasegawa. Boilover. Virtually. in small low-pressure vertical or horizontal tanks. Later.6570 . boilover occurs. Small fires might initiate full surface fires directly or indirectly. However. Figure(1): Types of Fire and Escalation  ! . or underground tanks are typically appropriate ones to store combustible liquids. Types of Fires in Storage Tanks Most tanks are classified according to their roof type consisting of fixed-roof.  The conditions of boilover occurance. It is a phenomenon that can occur when a fire on an open top tank containing crude or certain types of heavy fuel oils has been burning for some time. These studies are reviewed in this paper. Introduction In terms of fire safety. Blinov and Khudyakov. The hazard of boilover cannot be overemphasised. [9. and it may grow to be several meters deep in a large tank before boilover. A boilover can occur after only a few hours of full surface burning. The figure shows fires that mostly occur in large diameter open top floating roof tanks. and domed external floating roof types. involves burning of liquid fuels. In this phenomenon. The thickness of the isothermal layer increases with time after ignition. Large cone-roof tanks. the flame travels quickly on the oil surface and the hot air stream in the flame is turbulent in a full surface fire that would result in boilover. a fire type in oil industries that happens in water bed position.1.  The current paper is going to review the studies that have been done on boilover. The vapor leakages passing the seals between the roof and the shell might be ignited and if not controlled. while flammable liquids are commonly stored in open-top or internal floating roof tanks in bulk quantities.
It is not known how many of these 7 fires would have boiled over if the tank shell had not failed. Frothover. It can result in large quantities of oil being violently ejected even beyond the containment bund. expanding to more than 1700 times its volume as compared to in its liquid state. This is also common at home as a cheap pan fire when cooking. As the temperature of the fire slowly builds.6570 . Relative density difference of oil/petrochemicals and water is the most probable cause of this situation.  Three key elements should necessarily be present for boilover to occur in its severest form: • An open top tank fire • A water layer in the tank • Development of a high temperature. relatively dense hot zone. it will eventually reach the water that has collected at the bottom of the container. The descending heatwave will have a temperature sufficient to cause the water to vaporise into steam. to collect at the bottom of the container.American Journal of Oil and Chemical Technologies ISSN Print: 2326. The LASTFIRE review of major fires recorded 16 fire incidents on tanks containing boilover fuels (including fixed roof tanks). which is determined by the nature of the stored product ! . the term boilover is used if the tank is on fire and hot residues from the burning travel down to the water layer. 2 slopped over and 7 spilled oil into the bund when the tank failed without boiling over.1. being lighter than water. The rapidly expanding (possibly superheated) steam expels the fuel upward to boilover and out of the container discharging the. Slopover and Boilover Boilover is a phenomenon that can occur when a fire on an open top tank containing crude or certain types of heavy fuel oils has been burning for some time.  In large scales. of which 7 boiled over. still ignited.6589 Page: 13-21 ! Figure(2): Potential tank fire scenarios  3. The Theory of Boilover Occurrence Boilover type of fire appears excessively hazardous in a situation where a semi-enclosed oil or petrochemical fuelled fire is being extinguished with water. Boilover is a potential escalation route to multiple tank/bund incidents and a major hazard to fire fighters.  In short. a water layer in the bottom of the tank.  3. Oil. a tank fire on the surface of the fuel. descends down through the fuel. causes it to always want to be the surface layer. doing little to extinguish the flames. fuel onto a large and uncontrolled area outside of the container. and the formation of a hot zone (or heat wave) in the burning fuel are the necessary elements for a boilover to occur. Online: 2326. As water is being pumped onto the surface of the fuel it will quickly sink below the fuel.
Slopover can occur when firewater or foam is introduced into hot oil. The water sinks into the heavier oil at the surface of the tank and vaporises. 3) shows that the flame height observed from windward side increased about three times as much as that at the steady state burning and the maximum temperature obtained with thermocouples increased from about 900–1100°C when boilover occurred.6589 Page: 13-21 In full surface fires involving crude or certain specifications of heavy fuel oils there is the possibility of a boilover.pockets of water or fuel constituents that will boil can be stratified within the tank at different levels. hot zones that result in a boilover type event when the hot zone comes into contact with a water layer. turns to steam and pushes up through the fuel above. there is currently no definitive method of determining when a boilover will occur. high temperature. although there are some opinions regarding signs of an imminent boilover. Upon mixing. The resultant stream entrains fuel with it causing a slopping over of the fuel from the tank. especially in crude oils. residual oils. or frothover. Therefore if it is realised that extinguishment is not going to be achieved and the fuel has the potential for boilover. It is considered that this can be done even when the firefighting operation is going on because the turbulence and product movement caused is too small to have any significant effect on foam effectiveness. it is vital that all personnel retreat to a safe distance. A Controlled Run of Boilover Phenomenon The IR-images of the flame observed from windward in a run in one case study done by Koseki  (Fig.2.  3. High boiling point fuels with narrow boiling ranges such as fuel oil or hexadecane produce shallow. Therefore. [18. it was concluded that fuel thickness relates with period of boilover. [15. 3. It should be noted that a boilover is an entirely different phenomenon from a slopover. It must be recognised that the fall of hot product through the fuel is not necessarily uniform over the whole surface of the tank. This can only be used as a very rough estimate as actual speed will depend on fuel type and constituents.  The results of a boilover can be catastrophic and obviously will expose anyone in the vicinity to a high level of risk. The result is a massive eruption of tank contents that can spread to several tank diameters away from the tank. This occurs when a hot zone of product falls through the fuel and hits the water base at the bottom of or elsewhere in the tank. 19] Slopover occurs when water is applied to the already burning surface of a tank fire. Other fuels that can produce boilovers include petroleum intermediates such as “tops” or crude distillates.3. A generally accepted “rule of thumb” is that the hot zone will travel downwards at a speed of approximately 1-2 meter every hour. The water boils. This type of event may lead to a bund fire. heavy fuel oils and refined products contaminated with another product with a different boiling point.American Journal of Oil and Chemical Technologies ISSN Print: 2326. Observing three controlled runs in their study . 21] In order to minimize fuel inventory in the boilover it is recommended to pump out the water that is commenced as soon as possible.6570 . Although no definitive work has been carried out to validate figures. Actual distance will depend on the quantity of fuel involved. the amount of vapourised liquid and wind direction. Online: 2326. Unfortunately. This is analogous to pouring water onto a chip pan fire in the home. the sudden conversion of water to steam causes a portion of the tank contents to overflow. there is a “rule of thumb” that a boilover fall out can extend 5-10 times diameters in each direction from a tank. as well as the initial tank fire. Frothover is not associated with a fire but results when water is present or enters a tank containing hot viscous oil. it is possible that the hot zone does not have to reach the bottom of a tank to create a boilover . Slopover involves a minor frothing which occurs when water is sprayed onto the hot surface of burning oil. The water boils and causes the hot oil to froth up and slop out of the top of the tank. ! ! . Also. Consequences of Boilover When a boilover occurs it can lead to burning product spreading over an area of several tank diameters away from the tank. measuring fall of the hot zone at the tank shell by thermal imaging cameras or heat sensitive paint cannot be relied upon.
boilover comes with a typical harsh noise. P. in the last moments of the fire. Once they fail and a boilover occurs. However. The quantity of fuel burnt before the occurrence of the phenomenon (pre-boilover burned mass ratio) is of great significance in boilover characterization. It provides information on the quantity of fuel still to burn that could be projected to the exterior of the pool during the boiling process.(3). the start of the phenomenon was determined from the sound level of the fire.6589 Page: 13-21 ! Fig. Online: 2326. Thus. Garo  showed that the boilover intensity can be estimated on the basis of the preboilover fuel mass ratio. Nevertheless. The amount of water might be relevant to the surface of flames. the differentiation of the microexplosion noise from environmental noise was used to predict the occurrence of boilover. noise level. since fire becomes more dangerous after that time (the height of the flames and the radiation increase). Detailed measurements were conducted on small scale oil tank models in the laboratory so that more stable results could be obtained. S. J. it is useful to know when it will occur. In that study . One of the main effects is the disruptive burning of the fuel known as boilover that is caused by the water boiling and splashing. Undoubtedly. 24] In controlled runs. A set of physical qualities. ! . (b) at boilover. the fire loss would be lessened. local temperature history in oil/water layer. boilover density. If the fire fighters and fighting equipment can be withdrawn out of the dangerous zone immediately before the occurrence of boilover. which makes it harder to select a precise final instant. none of the available methods can be assured of being successful every time. in a study done by H. IR-images of the flame taken from the windward side in one controlled run: (a) at steady burning. In addition.  In the event of an accident in which boilover may occur. in addition to small scale oil tank models used for studying the mechanism of boilover. preferable extinguishment should be performed before occurence. such as the flame structure. In fact. the fire will become uncontrollable and the fire loss will be increased. were recorded simultaneously during the entire boilover process. 4. Onset of boilover and its intensity seem to be the two important aspects of the problem. the mass ratio has been accurately analyzed so as to find a prediction method for boilover. It has not yet been accurately analyzed how much water evaporates during boilover although it is useful in measuring the real burning rate during the boiling period. normally referred to as a crackling sound. this is in addition to the simple burning of the fuel. which is due to the water vapor bubbles exploding and entraining and ejecting fuel to the flames. the more intense is the boilover. the presence of the water underneath fuel introduces a number of effects that are caused by the transfer of heat from the fuel to the water. etc.American Journal of Oil and Chemical Technologies ISSN Print: 2326. Boilover Prediction In boilover phenomenon. Hua and his group . The thicker this layer. and the nearby oil tanks can be protected properly. a medium scale oil tank model with a diameter of 600 mm was used for the observation on the hazard fire behavior and the premonitory phenomena of boilover.  The quasi-steady period of boilover is the period in which the most effective active fighting methods should be taken so that most of the harmful impacts can be prfevented.6570 . [23. the sound spectrum evolves in a more irregular manner. burning rate. which results in the explosive burning of the fuel.
All these combustion characteristics not only make the oil fire uncontrollable.6570 . vapor explosion. have been conducted widely in the world. but also destroy fire fighting equipment and burn fire fighters.6589 Page: 13-21 ! 4. there is insufficient data and incident experience to give definitive advice on this subject. such as combustion. boilover often happens suddenly after quite a long period of quasi-steady burning. In small tanks it has proved possible to break-up the hot zone or to prevent it forming by sub-surface injection of foam or accelerated water. However. boilover happening would result in upgraded fire loss. As a result. a sound recording system was used to record the micro-explosion noise on magnetic tapes during the entire oil burning process. who are working near the oil tank. both of its fire behavior and its mechanism. careful observation and examination on the water’s seething process may be helpful to understand the mechanism of boilover and its premonitory phenomena such as the emission of micro-explosion noise. phase change and boiling. (The use of this tactic is not generally recommended) Sub-surface injection is difficult if the hot zone has achieved an appreciable depth because of the potential for slopover. in an attempt to drain as much of the water bottom out of the tank as possible. 5.  As a result. a typical boilover process could be empirically divided into three basic stages. because of the complexity of the boilover phenomena. Micro-Explosion Noise Emission Method In order to understand the mechanisms of micro-explosion noise emission. S. heat and mass transfer.  ! . From the results of the careful experimental simulation of boilover phenomenon. a quasi-steady period. stopping foaming when steam is observed on the surface of the tank. Some companies have installed storage tanks with bottoms sloping towards an emergency water draw point. and the features most suitable for noise identification could be chosen from many acoustic parameters.e. Moreover. with three walls of quartz glass. which includes several fundamental physical processes. lots of burning oil is sprayed out. etc. However. etc. it was revealed that the water’s seething status on the oil/water interface occupies two basic stages consisting of a weakly seething status and a strong one. Some success in preventing slop-over has been obtained by performing intermittent sub-surface foam injection. The weak seething status causes the typical phenomena of the emission of micro-explosion noise while the strong one leads to the occurrence of boilover. and the relationship between the noise emission and occurrence of boilover. Majority of studies were focused on the quasi-steady period or the entire process so far. Boilover Mitigation When boilover happens in an oil storage tank. the flame goes up quickly and the flame radiation to the environment increases strongly. Hence.American Journal of Oil and Chemical Technologies ISSN Print: 2326. which can be opened when the hot zone reaches 3m above tank bottom. Therefore. the mechanism of boilover is not clearly understood. Additionally. i.1. Hua’s study. a special rectangular-shaped oil tank model. the micro-explosion noise could be replayed and processed repeatedly. Water may also accumulate in the event that power to the mixers is lost. premonitory period and boilover period. Use of tank mixers should not be relied upon as a means of preventing a water bottom forming since localised pockets of water may form even though the mixers are running. mitigation ways should always be considered to reduce the costly damages of boilover accidents. Studies of boilover phenomena. even though it may make the boilover occur sooner. Most fire fighters recommend pumping out the fuel when extinguishment is not considered possible or practical. Water’s seething on the oil/water interface is what eventually causes boilover. S. predicting the occurrence of boilover by the micro-explosion noise using noise recognition technique is a preliminary way for predicting boilover. Unfortunately. was designed by H. Hua’s group  so that the water’s boiling process on the oil/water interface could be observed and recorded by a camera. In experimental observations in H. [27-29] Boilover mitigation methods have not been fully successful. because it reduces the inventory that can take part in a boilover. Online: 2326.
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