Computational Smouldering Combustion: Predicting the Roles of Moisture and Inert Contents in Peat Wildfires

Xinyan Huang* and Guillermo Rein
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial College London,
Motivation and Introduction
 Smouldering combustion is the slow, lowtemperature, flameless burning of porous fuels and is the most persistent combustion [1];  It’s the driving phenomenon of wildfires in peat lands (Fig. 1), like those causing haze episodes in Southeast Asia and Northeast Europe, but poorly understood;  Peat fires contribute to 15% of man-made carbon emissions [2], and yield a large amount of toxic gases, which are harmful to public safety and health [3]. Objective: 1. Based on TG data, develop an effective kinetics for smouldering combustion of peat, and find kinetic parameters for various peat samples. 2. Develop a computational model to solve the indepth spread of peat fire with proposed kinetics. 3. Find the smouldering threshold related to the critical moisture and inorganic contents, investigate the influence factors, and compare with experiments in literatures [4,5].

Chemical Kinetics
5-step kinetic model for smouldering combustion of peat Based on the thermogravity (TG) data of four different peat samples from Scotland (SC), Siberia (SI-A and SI-B), and China (CH), the decomposition schemes with different complexities were investigated [8]. The best kinetics was found to include 1-step drying and 4-step decomposition as 1) Peat ∙ 𝑣𝑤 H2 O → Peat + 𝑣𝑤 H2 O (g) 2) Peat → 𝜈𝛼,𝑝𝑝 α-Char + 𝜈𝑔,𝑝𝑝 Gas (Peat drying) (Peat pyrolysis)

Smouldering Threshold
 Physically, both water and minerals act as heat sinks 
to enhance the heat dissipation. Therefore, an compensation effect is expected between MC and IC. The experimental data of modified samples was fitted as MC = 1.1 − 1.35 IC in [4], and plotted in Fig. 6 along with natural-sample data in [5]. That is, it is not possible to ignite and completely combust a soil sample above this line. The smouldering-threshold curve of critical IC and MC was solved with kinetic parameters of four different peat samples. The found smouldering-threshold curves are non-linear. The critical curve of SC sample crosses the middle of experimental data scatters, and the corresponding critical curve of SI-A peat (OC = 97.6%) is much lower. The kinetic parameters (i.e. decomposition chemistry) have a significant influence on smouldering threshold.

3) Peat + 𝜈𝑂2,𝑝𝑝 O2 → 𝜈𝛼,𝑝𝑝 β-Char + 𝜈𝑔,𝑝𝑝 Gas (Peat oxidation) 5) α-Char + 𝜈𝑂2,𝛼𝛼 𝑂2 → 𝜈𝑎,𝛼𝛼 Ash + 𝜈𝑔,𝛼𝛼 Gas

4) β-Char + 𝜈𝑂2,𝛽𝛽 O2 → 𝜈𝑎,𝛽𝛽 Ash + 𝜈𝑔,𝛽𝛽 Gas (β-char oxidation) where there are two parallel paths: (a) Peat → α-Char → Ash, and (b) Peat → β-Char → Ash.

(α-char oxidation)

Table 1: kinetic parameters of SC peat for 5-step chemistry.

Figure 3: mass-loss rate of SC peat in a TG experiment. Marks: experimental data, and lines: simulations [8].

Figure 1: Smouldering peat fires in Indonesia in 2013 (up); diagram of the lateral and in-depth spreads of a smouldering wildfire in a layer of peat (down).

The kinetic parameters are inversely found through the genetic algorithm (GA), as listed in Table 1. The simulated mass-loss-rate curve with the 5-step kinetics gives an excellent agreement with the corresponding TG experiment. Figure 3 shows an example comparison between simulation and TG experiment for a SC peat.

Figure 6: Experimental and computational smouldering-threshold curves correlating to critical IC and MC [7].

o The sensitivity of the smouldering thresholds is

Computational Model
Frandsen’s two experiments 1. A low-mineral peat moss was mixed with water and clay (minerals) to produced wet modified soil samples (9×9×4 cm) with specific moisture content (MC) and inorganic content (IC). A coil heater was used for ignition on the top of the sample [4]. 2. Natural soil samples (with different natural ICs) at various sites of North America were tested to find the critical MC. A dry peat layer (1 cm) was placed on the top and ignited by a coil heater [5]. After ignition, a smouldering front starts to spread in-depth and a layer of ash is accumulated on the top (Fig. 2). As a first approximation, these experiments can be viewed as 1-D. Hence, we used the open-source code Gpyro [6] to develop the 1-D smouldering combustion of peat [7]. 1-D governing equations The details are reported in [6], only the essentials of the model are presented here: 𝜕𝜌
̅ ′′′ = −𝜔̇ 𝑓𝑓 𝜕𝜕 𝜕 𝜌̅ 𝑌𝑖 ′′′ ′′′ = 𝜔̇ 𝑓𝑓 − 𝜔̇ 𝑑𝑑 𝜕𝜕 (1)

Smouldering Structure
 A Scotland (SC) peat with OC= 98.2% [8] is selected as the base case. 6 condensed-phase species (water, peat, α-Char, β-Char, ash, and clay) and 4 gaseous species (N2 , O2 , H2 O(g) , and emission gases) are considered. Thermo-physical properties of all species are adopted from literatures.

investigated by varying three parameters: bulk density of peat (𝜌𝑝 = 90-130 kg/m3), solid thermal conductivity of peat (𝑘𝑠,𝑝 = 0.8-1.2 W/m-K) and heat of char oxidation (20-30 MJ/kg). All other parameters and ignition protocol are fixed.

o Figure 7 reveals that the range of computed

 Ignition A successful ignition and spread is defined if most of the organic matter (> 95%) is consumed. If ignition succeeds, simulations show that the smouldering combustion lasts for 1-2 h, agreeing with experimental observations in [4, 5].  Spread One case (MC = 50% and IC = 30%) is investigated in detail. The peak temperature stabilizes at about 600 ℃ (Fig. 4). Figure 5 shows the evolution of mass, surface regression and mass-loss rate, and the reaction profile at 𝑡 = 20 min.

smouldering thresholds covers most experimental data on different peat samples. Computational results show that the smouldering thresholds increase monotonously with the heat of combustion, but decreases with the bulk density and thermal conductivity of peat. low thermal conductivity, and a large heat of combustion.

 A peat is easy to combust with a small bulk density, a
Figure 7: Computational smouldering-threshold curves under a combination of ρp , k s,p , and Cαo , varying in a wide range [7].

 A 5-step (including drying) heterogeneous kinetics is 
proposed for smouldering combustion of peat, and the kinetic parameters are inversely found based on TG data. A multi-physics 1-D model of a reactive porous media is developed with this 5-step kinetics to simulate the small-scale experiments in [4, 5]. The transient temperature, species mass fraction, reaction profiles, and surface regression are studied. The predicted smouldering thresholds related to the critical MC and IC are nonlinear. A sensitivity analysis shows that the critical content thresholds depend significantly on the kinetic parameters, increases with the heat of combustion, but decreases with bulk density and thermal conductivity of peat.

The author (XH) was supported by the ME Department at Imperial College London, and Santander Overseas Research Scholarship. The authors thank Prof. H. Chen (USTC) for TG data and valuable discussions.

Figure 4: Simulated evolution of temperature profiles for SC peat with MC = 50% and IC = 30% [7].

�) 𝜕 𝜕𝜕 𝜕(𝜌̅ ℎ ′′′ ′′′ ′′′ � = 𝑘 + � 𝑄̇𝑠 + � 𝜔̇ − 𝜔̇ ,𝑘 𝑓𝑓 𝑑𝑑 ℎ𝑖 𝜕𝜕 𝜕𝜕 𝜕𝜕 � 𝑌𝑖 𝜕(𝑚 𝜕𝑌 𝜕 𝜌𝑔 𝜓 ̇ ′′ 𝑌 𝜕 𝑗 ) 𝑗 ′′′ ′′′ � + = 𝜓𝜌𝑔 𝐷 +𝜔̇ 𝑓𝑓 −𝜔̇ 𝑑𝑑 𝜕𝜕 𝜕𝜕 𝜕𝜕 𝜕𝜕 � 𝜕𝜕 𝐾 𝑚 ̇ ′′ = − 𝑝 = 𝜌𝑔 𝑅𝑠 𝑇 𝜐 𝜕𝜕 � 𝜕 𝜌𝑔 𝜓 𝜕𝑚 ̇ ′′ ′′′ + = 𝜔̇ 𝑓𝑓 𝜕𝜕 𝜕𝜕 𝑘
=1 𝑖=1 𝐾 𝑀

(2) 3 (4)

[1] T. Ohlemiller, Progress in Energy and Combustion Science 11 (1985) 277– 310. [2] G. Rein, Smouldering Fires and Natural Fuels, Fire Phenomena in the Earth System, Wiley and Sons, 2013. [3] A. Rappold et al., Environ Health Perspect 119 (2011) 1415–20. [4] W. H. Frandsen, Can. J. of Forest Research 17 (1987)1540–44. [5] W. H. Frandsen, Can. J. of Forest Research 27 (1997) 1471–77. [6] C. Lautenberger et al, Fire Safety J. 44 (2009) 819–39. [7] X. Huang et al. 35th Int. Combustion Symposium (submitted). [8] X. Huang, G. Rein. Combustion and Flame (2014) in press.

Figure 2: 1-D computational domain for the smouldering peat fire.



Figure 5: Simulated evolution of (a) mass of each species condensed species, (b) total mass-loss rate and thickness of fuel bed, and (c) reaction profile at t = 20 min for SC peat with MC = 50% and IC = 30% [7].

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