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Using Purge and Pressurization to Prevent Explosions

By Sean Clarke, Epsilon Technical Services Limited

We have mentioned in previous articles that there are many types of
protection concept. One of the simplest concepts to understand and apply
to almost any type of apparatus is purging.
Purge, pressurization and Ex p or EEx p are all terms used to refer to this
concept. The concept works on the principle of keeping the flammable
substance away from the source of ignition and ensuring the surface
temperature of the purged enclosure is non-incendive.
The technique of pressurizing and purging enclosures of electrical
apparatus is to prevent the ingress of a flammable atmosphere. Purging is
a widely accepted protection concept for explosion protection. It is
accepted world-wide (using European Standards, NFPA or IEC Standards)
and is relatively straightforward to comprehend. Explosion protection is
achieved by keeping the potentially explosive atmosphere away from any
source of ignition (thermal or electrical). The potentially ignition capable
apparatus is mounted inside an enclosure, the enclosure is then
pressurized to a positive pressure relative to the atmospheric pressure (a
positive pressure of 0.5mbar is all that is required).
As long as this positive pressure is maintained, no gas (or even dust) will
be able to enter the enclosure, hence the internal equipment can not be
exposed to a potentially explosive gas. There is however a chance that an
explosive gas mixture may have entered the enclosure prior to the positive
pressure being achieved. To ensure that the enclosure is pressurized with
a non-explosive gas (i.e. Air or Nitrogen) the enclosure is 'purged' to flush
out the existing contents and ensure that all areas of the enclosure contain

only the purging gas (purging of internal dusts have not yet been
considered). It normally takes between 5 and 10 volume changes to
ensure that the enclosure is 'purged'. (In Europe the first edition purge
standard defined five air changes as a minimum, in North America the
minimum is defined as 10 air changes)
It is a condition of certification for Zone 1 equipment that power can not
be applied to the equipment until the 'purging' (a specified flow of purging
gas for a specified time) has been completed. To ensure continuity in the
effect of the purging, the maximum leakage rate for the enclosure is also
specified. When the purging has been completed, power can still not be
applied until the specified positive pressure (at least 0.5 mbar) has been
In the event of a failure to complete the purging cycle (drop in flow or
incomplete duration) or if the enclosure pressure drops below the specified
positive pressure, power to the equipment shall be removed (for Zone 1)
or an alarm indication shall be given (Zone 2).
In the event either of these conditions, the entire purging cycle starts
again with the full purge time duration. The control of the automatic
purging and pressurization is normally by a 'Purge Control Unit' (PCU). The
PCU is required to measure flow and pressure, and must fail-safe in all
The enclosure that houses the equipment to be purged must have
sufficient physical integrity to withstand impacts and overpressures. The
enclosure should also be designed to facilitate the free flow of air. As
enclosure integrity is required to a level of IP40 (no holes greater than
1mm), any non-metallic material must be tested for durability and
longevity (against effects of heat and light etc.). External considerations,
such as the surface temperature of the equipment or static from plastic
parts, must be considered. To ensure incandescent particles can not be
vented from the equipment, a spark arrestor must be fitted (or the vented
gas must be ducted to a safe area). This technique is virtually unlimited
particularly in physical size or power rating of the apparatus being

Purge control Units

Purge control units must be able to measure and act on the following
Pressure (pressurization)
Flow (purging)
Time (Purging)
The operations performed by the PCU must be 'failsafe' by virtue of test
and assessment with one fault (i.e. a valve failing), this is even more
prevalent with the advent of the ATEX Directive. Failure modes of
components must be considered; even relays can fail open or short-circuit
(normally open relays can 'arc-weld' in to a closed position). Purging
timers must always re-set to zero if they are interrupted during the
purging cycle or after a purge failure. There are two basic types of control:
Constant Flow (CF)- The air flow for the purging and pressurization stages
are the same. The flow is left as a constant after it is set, and power is
applied after a set period of time.
Leakage Compensation (LC) After purging, the air flow is reduced to a
figure just above the leakage level to maintain the pressurization. The PCU
is required to switch from an initial high flow rate (often referred to as fast
purge) to a much lower flow rate on completion of the purge time. CF
systems are simpler to design, but are more expensive (in air or nitrogen)
to run. There are other examples of hybrid systems (CF/LC) but in reality
they are just variations on the two basic types.
PCU's are normally either pneumatic or electrical. If the PCU is mounted in
the safe area only the operation will require verifying (unless it contains
intrinsically safe outputs). PCU's mounted in the potentially explosive
atmosphere will require certifying both as safety systems and as potential
ignition sources (although sources of ignition from pneumatic systems
were not considered until the ATEX Directive).
Each STATE of the system is defined in response to the inputs of the
monitoring devices. The states are required to be unique. The logical

conditions for the occupation of each state are required to be uniquely

defined by BOOLEAN logical expressions. All possible combinations of input
conditions are required to be shown in a table. For maintenance purposes
it is necessary to work on the apparatus within the enclosure while the
purge is off and the enclosure is open. Naturally this is done under a gas
clearance or hot work permit for safety but there are other safety
implications which have to be taken into account. Once the enclosure has
been opened the pressure switch will, via the control unit, cause the power
to be isolated from the enclosure. Naturally power must be on so some
means are required to by pass this function of the control system. One
way of achieving this is to wire a key-operated switch in parallel with the
pressure switch. It must be ensured that the purge cycle reinitiates before
power is applied again.
Standards and Certification
The methodology for designing and testing a purged and pressurized
enclosure has been defined in many Standards and specific industry codes
of practice. The two most commonly used Standards are:
3.1 CENELEC Purge Standard
The standard in Europe for the last 20 years has been the CENELEC
standard EN 50016: 1977 which in turn is based on a part of IEC-79
published in 1975. The significant features of this standard are:
Automatic initial purge.
Verification (by test or assessment) of initial purge by flow and time.
Manual operation of the purging system is not permitted (it is in the
IEC Standard).
A replacement standard for what has become known as 'the first edition'
purge standard was issued in 1996. This is now the standard that is used
for certification.
BS EN 50016:1996
The new standard for pressurized apparatus is far more substantial than
the 'first edition' and contains more mandatory requirements. The key
changes are:

Static pressurization
Purge control requirements (including flow measurement, truth tables
Source or release covered
Purge testing is mandatory and the test is defined
A minimum of 5 volume changes is no longer mandatory
Leakage tests are required
This 'Second Edition' Standard is currently being used for European
Certification, although the vast majority of certified purged equipment is
only certified against the requirements of the 'First Edition'. Both types of
certification will exist in parallel until June 31st 2003, when the ATEX
Directive will become mandatory.
Zoning Requirements
The European pressurization standard does not indicate the zone of use of
the purged apparatus, this is defined in the 'Code of Practice'.Purge can be
used in Zone 1 or Zone 2.
Zone 1: Power must be automatically removed if pressurization fails. Zone
2: An alarm must be raised (as a minimum) if pressurization fails.
Most commercially available purge control units have options for 'alarm'
and 'alarm and trip' so that the user can select the appropriate measures.
North America Requirements
The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 496 standard which was
produced in the USA recognized three levels of complexity according to the
risk and the objective.
Type X purging was intended for Division 1 locations to change the
interior to non-hazardous.
Type Y purging was intended for Division 1 locations to change the
interior to Division 2.

Type Z purging was intended for Division 2 locations to change interior to

Type X purging requires that if the enclosure pressure is lost, the supply is
automatically disconnected on loss of purge pressure and a re-purge is
required before the supply is restored. (Zone 1 CENELEC)
Type Y purging does not require supply disconnection on loss of pressure
but the equipment in the purged enclosure had to be suitable for division
2. (This is now possible under the ATEX Directive for Zone 1 CENELEC)
Type Z purging, because of the lower level of risk in division 2, required
only an indication of loss of purged pressure. (Zone 2 CENELEC)
Practical implementation
A standard IP54 enclosure may not be suitable for use as a pressurized
enclosure because the sealing is in the wrong direction. The standard
enclosure is designed to prevent the external environment entering the
enclosure which means that they are generally unsuitable for retaining
internal pressure.
For this reason enclosures from suppliers of pressurized systems are not
generally the same as general-purpose enclosures. Also, the enclosure
must be able to maintain the pressure, on large enclosures the unit can be
seen to deform even with relatively low pressures. Additional hinges and
cover bolts may be required when the pressure is acting on a large surface
area. Plastic parts (e.g. switches) should not penetrate the housing walls.
Plastic parts may be used externally if, when the plastic is removed, metal
parts remain that provide an ingress protection rating of IP40 (no objects
greater than 1 mm can penetrate the enclosure). No live (or potentially
live) parts should be exposed outside of the purged area. As switches are
normally sealed devices that contain sparking contacts, it is preferable to
either use certified switches or mount the switches inside the purged
enclosure. Plastic ducting should not be used if the plastic part failing does
not create a fail-safe condition, e.g. on the secondary purge system.
Supply and Return of Purging Medium

Special precautions are needed where the pressurization method uses a

fan or blower. It is generally undesirable to put the fan in a hazardous area
because this means that the ducting, which extends to a non-hazardous
area, will be below atmospheric pressure and, unless it is completely leak
tight, may draw in flammable gases. The other advantages of putting the
fan in the non- hazardous area is that it does not need to be suitable for
use in hazardous area itself and the ducting is under positive pressure
which prevents ingress of flammable gas.
The use of compressed air is the normal method of supplying purge air, it
must be noted that several purged enclosure on one supply line may drop
the operational pressure to below working levels for the pneumatic logic, if
such a system is used.
The exhausted air from a purged enclosure may contain small particles
that have been heated by the internal sources of the enclosure. To prevent
these particles being vented into the potentially explosive atmosphere the
following methods are used:
Spark arrestors on the air outlet.
Ducting (to a safe area) on the air outlet.
The minimum pressure required is 0.5 mbar (50 Pa or 0.2" w.g.) and this
should be achieved with the lowest possible flow of pressurizing gas. The
pressure measurement has to at least raise an alarm if the pressure falling
below this level so that the working pressure will be above this. The
enclosure has be tested to prove it will withstand 1.5 times its normal
working pressure (minimum 200 Pa) for 2 minutes without distortion, a
figure of 10 mbar is not uncommon as a working pressure.
Effective purging of the enclosure and its contents has to be provided. As
a guideline, 5 volume changes are generally sufficient if the enclosure has
been designed to a few basic guidelines:
a. Avoid air traps (pockets)
b. Avoid 'channelling' of the purging air

c. Create turbulence
d. Avoid sealed volumes

Temperature Classification
Since the flammable gas is prevented from entering the enclosure the
exterior of the enclosure determines the temperature classification. It is to
be noted, however, that internal hot surfaces will remain hot even after
the power has been removed. A full assessment of the thermal properties
of hot parts of a purged enclosure must be conducted.
Internal Energy Storage
For things such as capacitors in power supplies this often means either
waiting until the charge has leaked away before the enclosure is opened or
fitting bleed resistors to ensure it happens. Batteries cannot be dealt with
in this way and invariably have to be protected by one of the other
methods, a draft standard for batteries in purged equipment outlines the
Test the battery to get the 'worst case' output parameters.
Ensure the output is non-incendive.
Assess the capacitance and inductance to which the battery is
Pressurized and Purged Enclosure with Internal Source of Release
The primary objective here is to prevent a flammable atmosphere from
occurring within the enclosure. This can be achieved either by continuous
dilution or by the use of inert gas. If the quantity of the internal source of
release can be defined and controlled, dilution can be used. If the quantity
of release can not be defined, inert gas must be used. In either case an
initial purge is still required; where air is the purging medium the intent is
to dilute any flammables below the lower flammable limit. In the case of
inert gas the intent is to render the interior of the enclosure nonflammable by the removal of oxygen. For obvious reasons, apparatus

capable of igniting a flammable gas must not be located in the dilution

zone of a possible release.

Certification and Testing

Pressurized equipment can be 'self certified' for Zone 2. If the pressurized
equipment is designed to be used in a Zone 1 atmosphere then it must be
certified through a European Notified Body.
The certification process involves an assessment of the sample against the
provided drawings (to ensure that the constructional requirements have
been met and that the sample is a representative test sample) and a
series of tests. The exact nature and type of testing conducted will vary
from product to product, but will typically be as indicated below.
Impact test on enclosure
EN50 014
Impact test on glass (x3)
EN50 014
Thermal shock on glass
EN50 014
Purge test (Argon and Helium)
EN50 016
Overpressure test
EN50 016
Leakage test
EN50 016
Low pressure test
EN50 014
Temperature rise test
EN50 014
Thermal decay test
EN50 014
Secondary purge test
EN50 016
Dilution test
EN50 016
The level of 'impact' for the impact test can vary depending on the
material and the risk of impact. Plastic materials require pre-conditioning
before impacting, and the impact test is conducted with the plastic parts at
high and low temperatures. Plastic parts that penetrate the enclosure may
also require resistance to light testing.
Purge Verification Tests
The test is normally conducted by filling the enclosure with representative
test gasses (Argon and Helium are used to represent heavy and light

explosives gasses) and physically measuring the removal from the

enclosure when the inert purge gas is applied. The actual gas that will be
present where the equipment will be used can be used, but Argon and
Helium are normally used as they cover all possible flammable gas
The test is carried out by positioning small bore tubes in the purge cabinet
at positions likely to 'pocket' and measuring the actual content of test gas.
Initially the cabinet must be at least 70% full of the test sample to be
removed. The test sample is then removed by air purging until acceptable
levels (based on the LEL) have been reached.
The time taken to remove the test gasses from the enclosure is referred to
as the 'purge time', and will be marked on the certification label and
conducted prior to pressurizing the enclosure and applying power.
The purge time will be dependent on the rate of flow of purging gas and
internal geometry of the enclosure to be purged. By ventilation and a
considered approach to the internal configuration, purge times can be
greatly reduced (reducing the downtime of equipment before power can be
applied). There is not a linear relationship between purge times and purge
flow rate, i.e. doubling the air flow will not necessarily half the purge time.
Other types of pressurization
Static Pressurization:
Static pressurization relies on the enclosure being pressurized with an
inert gas and having a sealed enclosure to maintain the pressurization.
The protective gas shall be inert.
Internal sources of release of flammable substances are not
The pressurized enclosure shall be filled with inert gas in a nonhazardous area using the procedure specified by the manufacturer
Two automatic safety devices shall be provided to operate when the
overpressure falls below the minimum value specified by the

The automatic safety devices shall only be capable of being reset by

the use of a tool or a key.
The purpose for which the automatic safety devices are used (i.e. to
disconnect power or to sound an alarm or otherwise ensure safety of
the installation) is the responsibility of the user.
Pressurized and Purged Enclosure with People Working Inside
(Purged rooms)
Naturally inert gas cannot be used and compressed air is not generally
recommended. In addition, emergency facilities for the personnel are
required. Lighting and means of escape are of prime importance. The
lighting is required under all circumstances and hence must be protected
by some other suitable means such as flameproof. Kick-out panels or crash
bars on doors usually provide for escape.
Sean Clarke is a specialist ATEX Compliance Engineer with Epsilon Limited, a company
which designs, test assesses and certifies equipment for the CE marking and
Potentially Explosive Atmosphere certification including the ATEX Directive. Epsilon also
offers training for both users and manufacturers of potentially explosive atmospheres
equipment. Readers may contact Mr. Clarke at the address below for further
information or to arrange a free technical meeting.
Epsilon Limited Tel: 01244 541551 Fax: 01244 543888 URL: