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TESTING TO ASSESS EXPLOSION CHARACTERISTICS OF DUST CLOUDS

Vahid Ebadat, Ph.D.


Chilworth Technology, Inc.
250 Plainsboro Road
Plainsboro, New Jersey 08536, USA
vebadat@chilworth.com
http://www.chilworth.com

1.0

INTRODUCTION
Statistics suggest that fire/explosion hazards exist in facilities or equipment that handle or
process combustible dusts (ref. CSB Investigation Report: Combustible Dust Hazard Study
Nov 9, 2006). The consequences of a dust explosion can range from short-term disruption
of production to loss of facilities and injury or fatality of personnel.
A dust deflagration will occur if the concentration of the combustible dust that is suspended
in air is sufficient to propagate flame when ignited by a sufficiently energetic ignition
source. The oxygen in air is the most common oxidant however other oxidants such as
fluorine, chlorine, and bromine can also be associated with deflagration events. The
ignition sources that have been found to be the cause of the majority of explosions in dust
handling/processing plants include (this is not an exhaustive list) hot work, open flames,
mechanical friction and sparks, hot surfaces and equipment, thermal decomposition,
electrical arcs (sparks), and electrostatic discharges.
A systematic approach to identifying dust cloud explosion hazards and taking measures to
ensure safety generally involves:
Understanding the explosion characteristics of the dust(s)
Identifying areas of the facility where combustible dust cloud atmospheres could exist
under normal and/or abnormal conditions
Identifying potential ignition sources that could exist under normal and/or abnormal
conditions
Taking measures to eliminate/control ignition sources, control the spread of
combustible dust clouds, control oxidant supply (application of inert gas purging and/or
padding);
Taking measures to protect against the consequences of potential dust cloud explosions.
Explosion protection measures include explosion relief venting, explosion suppression,
explosion containment, and explosion isolation; and
Regular inspection and maintenance of equipment and facilities to minimize ignition
sources and dust releases
As indicated above testing to characterize the powders fire and explosion properties is an
essential step in identifying potential ignition sources, assessing the risk and consequences

Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

of igniting the dust cloud, and establishing the most appropriate basis of safety. A basis of
safety is the management of the fuel, oxidant, or ignition sources to prevent ignition and/or
the mitigation of the potential explosion to prevent or limit damages.

2.0

LABORATORY TESTING TO ASSESS EXPLOSION CHARACTERISTICS OF


DUST CLOUDS
To assess the possibility of an explosion in a facility and to select the most appropriate
basis of safety, explosion characteristics of the dust(s) that are being handled/processed in
the facility should be determined.
The explosion characteristics of powders normally fall within one of two groups,
likelihood of an explosion (ignition sensitivity) and consequences of an explosion
(explosion severity). The combination of likelihood and consequences will define the
explosion risk. Two groupings of dust tests are used to define these aspects of dust
explosion risk as discussed below:
2.1

Laboratory Tests to Determine the Likelihood of an Explosion (Ignition


Sensitivity)
- Explosion Classification (Screening) Test (US Bureau of Mines Report of
Investigations 5624, Laboratory Equipment and Test Procedure for Evaluating
Explosibility of Dusts)
The Explosion Classification test determines whether a dust cloud will explode
when exposed to a sufficiently energetic ignition source. The test results in a
powder being classified as either explosible or non-explosible. This test
answers the question Can this dust explode?
The Explosion Classification Test is usually conducted in a modified Hartmann
Tube apparatus. The apparatus consists of a 1.2-Liter vertical tube mounted onto
a dust dispersion system. Dust samples of various quantities are dispersed in the
tube and attempts are made to ignite the resulting dust cloud by an approximately
10Joule electrical arc ignition source. If the material fails to ignite in the
Modified Hartmann Tube apparatus, the testing is continued in a 20-Liter Sphere
apparatus where the dust cloud is exposed to a 10,000Joule ignition source.
- Minimum Explosible Concentration - MEC (ASTM E1515, Standard Test Method
for Minimum Explosible Concentration of Combustible Dusts)
The Minimum Explosible Concentration (MEC) test determines the lowest
concentration of dust cloud in air that can give rise to flame propagation upon
ignition. This test answers the question How easily can an explosible dust cloud
be formed?
The test involves dispersing a sample of the dust in a 20-Liter Sphere apparatus
and attempting to ignite the resulting dust cloud with an energetic ignition source.
Trials are repeated for decreasing sample sizes until the MEC is determined. The
MEC of a given dust cloud is influenced by the energy of the ignition source. An

Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

increase in the energy of the ignition source will result in a lower MEC value.
With the exception of certain steady state processes, it may prove difficult in
practice to maintain dust concentrations below the lower limit of flammability.
- Limiting Oxidant Concentration - LOC (EN 14034-4, Determination of the
Limiting Oxygen Concentration of Dust Clouds)
The Limiting Oxidant Concentration (LOC) test determines the minimum
concentration of oxygen (displaced by an inert gas such as nitrogen or carbon
dioxide) capable of supporting combustion. An atmosphere having an oxygen
concentration below the LOC is not capable of supporting a dust cloud explosion.
The LOC test is used to study explosion prevention or severity reduction
involving the use of inert gases and to set oxygen concentration alarms or
interlocks in inerted vessels.
LOC testing can be performed using the 20-Liter Sphere apparatus. Dust samples
of various sizes are dispersed in the vessel and attempts are made to ignite the
resulting dust cloud with an energetic ignition source. Trials are repeated for
decreasing oxygen concentrations until the LOC is determined.
The LOC of a given dust cloud is dependent on the type of inert gas that is used to
replace the oxidant of the atmosphere as well as some process conditions such as
temperature. Therefore, LOC testing should simulate the process conditions and
be performed by using an inert gas that is representative of the inert gas used in
practice.
- Minimum Ignition Temperature of a Dust Cloud MIT Cloud (ASTM E1491,
Standard Test Method for Minimum Auto-ignition Temperature of Dust Clouds)
The Minimum Ignition Temperature (MIT) test of a dust cloud determines the
lowest temperature capable of igniting a dust dispersed in the form of a cloud.
The MITcloud is an important factor in evaluating the ignition sensitivity of dusts
to such ignition sources as heated environments, hot surfaces, electrical devices,
and friction sparks.
Varying dust concentrations (ranging from lean to rich) are dispersed into a
furnace and the minimum furnace wall temperature capable of igniting the dust
cloud at its optimum concentration for ignition is determined.
The MITcloud value, as with most dust explosion parameters, is strongly influenced
by the particle size and moisture content of the dust. A decrease in particle size
and moisture content of the dust particles results in a lower MITcloud value.
- Minimum Ignition Temperature of a Dust Layer MIT Layer (ASTM E2021,
Standard Test Method for Hot Surface Ignition Temperature of Dust Layers)
This Minimum Ignition Temperature (MIT) test of a dust layer determines the
lowest temperature capable of igniting a dust layer of standard thickness (5 to
12.7 mm). The MITlayer is used in evaluating the ignition sensitivity of powders to
ignition by hot surfaces. The lower value of MITcloud or MITlayer is used to specify
the maximum surface temperature of Class II electrical devices in hazardous
areas, per the National Electric Code.
Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

Minimum Ignition Energy - MIE (ASTM E2019, Standard Test Method for
Minimum Ignition Energy of a Dust Cloud in Air)
The Minimum Ignition Energy (MIE) test determines the lowest electrostatic or
mechanical spark energy that is capable of igniting a dust cloud at its optimum
ignitable concentration. The test is used primarily to assess the susceptibility of
dust clouds to ignition by electrostatic discharges (sparks).
Dust samples of various sizes are dispersed in a 1.2-Liter vertical tube and
attempts are made to ignite the resultant dust cloud with discrete capacitive or
inductive sparks of known energy. Capacitive sparks are used to assess
electrostatic discharge sensitivity whilst inductive sparks are used to assess
mechanical discharge sensitivity. MIE values measured with inductance tend to
be lower than the corresponding capacitive values for the same powder.
The MIE value is influenced by particle size and moisture content of the dust and
by process conditions such as temperature and oxidant content. A decrease in
particle size and moisture content of the dust particles results in a lower MIE
value. Increasing the temperature of the atmosphere where the dust cloud is
suspended will result in a lower MIE value as well.
- Electrostatic Volume Resistivity (General Accordance with ASTM D257,
Standard Test Methods for DC Resistance or Conductance of Insulating
Materials)
Volume Resistivity is a measure of the electrical resistance for a unit volume of
material and is the primary criterion for classifying powders as low, moderately,
or highly insulating. Insulating powders have a propensity to retain electrostatic
charge and can produce hazardous electrostatic discharges.
The method involves placing a powder sample into a standardized electrode cell.
A voltage is applied to the cell and the current through the powder is measured.
Volume Resistivity is calculated using the known voltage, the measured current,
and the geometrical relationship between the electrodes.
Because of the effect of atmospheric and absorbed moisture on volume resistivity
this test is usually performed at both ambient and low relative humidity
conditions.
- Electrostatic Chargeability (General Accordance with ASTM D257, Standard
Test Methods for DC Resistance or Conductance of Insulating Materials))
Electrostatic Chargeability is a measure of the propensity of powder particles to
become charged when flowing through conveyances or when handled in
containers. Electrostatic Chargeability is measured by flowing samples through a
pipe and measuring the resultant electrostatic charge per unit mass. This test
provides data that can be used to develop appropriate material handling guidelines
from an electrostatic hazards point of view.
Because of the effect of atmospheric and absorbed moisture on powder
chargeability, this test is usually performed at both ambient and low relative
humidity conditions.
Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

- Self-Heating (Prevention of Fires and Explosions in Dryers, Institute of Chemical


Engineers, 1990)
Ignition of bulk powders can occur by a process of self-heating when the
temperature of the powder is raised to a level at which the heat liberated by the
exothermic oxidation or decomposition reaction is sufficient to exceed the heat
losses and to produce a runaway increase in temperature. At some elevated
temperature, ignition can occur.
The minimum ambient temperature for self-ignition of a powder depends mainly
on the nature of the powder and on its dimensions. If these variables are
predictable, a reliable assessment of the onset temperature for self-ignition and
also the induction time to self-ignition can be made by appropriate small-scale
laboratory tests.
o
o
o

Bulk Powder Test: Simulates bulk powder in IBCs, bags, bottom of hoppers
Aerated Powder Test: Simulates fluidized bed processing
Powder Layer Test: Simulates powder deposits on dryer walls/surfaces and
tray drying
o Basket Test: Simulates large-scale storage or transport conditions
2.2

Laboratory Tests to Determine the Consequences of an Explosion (Explosion


Severity)
- Maximum Explosion Pressure, Maximum Rate of Pressure Rise, Deflagration
Index (Kst Value) (ASTM E1226, Standard Test Method for Pressure and Rate of
Pressure Rise of Combustible Dusts)
The Maximum Explosion Pressure and Maximum Rate of Pressure Rise values
are determined by using a 1 m3 or 20-Liter Sphere test apparatus. The dust
sample is dispersed within the sphere, ignited by chemical igniters, and the
pressure of the resulting explosion is measured. The cloud concentration is varied
to determine the optimal dust concentration.
The maximum explosion pressure and maximum rate of pressure rise are
measured and used to calculate the Deflagration Index (Kst) value of the dust
cloud. These data can be used for the purpose of designing dust explosion
protection measures such as explosion relief venting, suppression, and
containment and to classify a materials explosion severity. This test answers the
question How bad is it if it happens?

3.0

MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEETS (MSDS)


According to the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) (ref. CSB
Investigation Report: Combustible Dust Hazard Study Nov 9, 2006) Material Safety Data
Sheets (MSDS) are less than adequate regarding combustible powder properties.
Quantitative combustible dust fire and explosion properties are not specifically and clearly
required to be included on Material Safety Data Sheets by the existing OSHA Hazard

Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

Communication Standard (HCS) or the American National Standards Institute consensus


standard for MSDS format and preparation, ANSI Z400.1. As a result, when explosivity
information is included, it is often in the form of less than adequate qualitative statements
such as Powder may form explosive dust/air mixtures. Qualitative statements give no
hint as to the conditions required to create an explosion hazard, or the relative violence of
the resulting deflagration. Good information on the hazardous properties of materials is
critical to an adequate process hazards analysis. Therefore, all pertinent fire and explosion,
electrostatic, and thermal instability information should be included in the MSDS in order
to adequately understand and control the hazards associated with combustible dusts.

4.0

APPROACH TO PROCESS SAFETY TESTING


The following table specifies the type of data that might be required for some common unit
operations involving powders (Reference 1)

Table 1 Dust Explosion Test Data Requirements for some Specific Unit Operations
Explosion
Screening
(A/B)1

MIE
(mJ)

Manual Handling /
Pouring

Sieving / Screening

MIT
Cloud
(C)

MIT
Layer
(C)

Explosion
Severity
Kst
(bar.m/s)

Volume
Resistivity3
(.m)

Chargeability4
(C/Kg)

Tumble / Double Cone


Blending

Ribbon Blending

Milling

Jet Milling

Spray, Fluidized Bed,


Tumble, Flash Drying

Unit Operation

LOC2
(%)

MEC
(g/m3)

Tray Drying

Pneumatic Conveying

Screw Conveying

Transfer to Hopper /
Bin / Tote / Container

Dust Collector and


Exhaust Ventilation

Self-Heating
(C)

X
X

X
X

1. Explosibility Screening test is only conducted if the combustibility of the powder/dust (as
being present in the process/facility) is not yet established. If the powder is found to be noncombustible, other tests in the table may not be required.
2. LOC is determined if the basis of safety is inert gas blanketing.
3. Volume Resistivity should be considered if the Minimum Ignition Energy is less than 25mJ.
4. Chargeability should be considered if the Minimum Ignition Energy is less than 25mJ.
Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

5.

OSHA Combustible Dusts National Emphasis Program (NEP) - CPL 03-00-008,


March 11th, 2008
The purpose of this NEP is to inspect facilities that generate or handle combustible dusts
which pose a deflagration or other fire hazard when suspended in air or some other
oxidizing medium over a range of concentrations, regardless of particle size or shape.
OSHA Combustible Dusts NEP Inspection and Citation Procedures Include:
Assessment of the combustible dust threat to employees
o Are the dust and management practices hazardous?
o What is the site history of fires involving dust?
o Does the MSDS indicate a dust explosion hazard?
o Are dust accumulations hazardous?
Collection of samples of combustible dusts for laboratory analysis
o From high places
o From floors and equipment surfaces
o From within ductwork
Audit of dust management practices and equipment including dust collectors, ductwork,
and other dust containers.
Audit of room safeguards
Audit of ignition source management
Table 2 lists the tests, test apparatus, and sample conditions which may be performed by
OSHA to determine the explosibility and combustibility parameters of dust samples
collected during their site inspections.

Table 2 Combustible Dust Tests Conducted by OSHA


Test

Particle Size

Moisture Content

As Received

As Received

40 Mesh (420m) Sieve

% Moisture Content

Less than 420m

As Received

Drying Oven at 75C for 24 hrs

% Combustible Material

Less than 420m

As Received

Muffle Furnace at 600C for 1 hr

% Combustible Dust

Less than 420m

As Received

Less than 5%

20-Liter Sphere (2500J Igniters)

Min. Explosible Concentration (MEC)

Less than 420m

Less than 5%

20-Liter Sphere (2500J Igniters)

Class II*

Less than 75m

% Through 40 Mesh (420m)

Max. Normalized Rate of Pressure Rise - Kst

Volume Resistivity

Test Apparatus

(Calculation)

1-Liter Hartmann Bomb for


Explosion Severity (E.S)

As Received

As Received

Minimum Ignition Energy (MIE)

Less than 75m ?

Hartmann Lucite Chamber

Minimum Ignition Temperature (MIT)

Less than 75m ?

Godbert-Greenwald Furnace

Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

* Class II Test
The U.S. Bureau of Mines (see NFPA 499 section A.3.3.9) classifies dust by its properties
compared to a standard material, Pittsburg Coal, and defines ignition sensitivity and
explosion severity as follows:

IgnitionSensitivity

ExplosionSeverity

[ MIE MIT MEC] Pittsburg Coal


[ MIE MIT MEC] Sample
[ Pmax
[ Pmax

dP
dP

dt

dt

max

max

] Sample

] Pittsburg Coal

If the ignition sensitivity is greater than 0.2 and/or the explosion severity is greater
than 0.5, the dust is defined as Class II. If the ignition sensitivity is less than 0.2 and the
explosion severity is less than 0.5, the dust explosion hazard is not significant. OSHA
will only characterize a sample sufficiently to prove (or disprove) that the sample meets the
definition for Class II dusts based on the ignition sensitivity or the explosion severity
test results.
It should be noted that the dust sample preparation and test methods/apparatus suggested by
OSHA may not comply with the current ASTM test methods and suggestions for sample
preparations as described in section 4 of this paper. For example, ASTM E1226 (test
method for the determination of the Maximum Explosion Pressure and Maximum Rate of
Pressure Rise (Kst)) recommends a 10,000J ignition source and particle size less than 75m
compared to an ignition source of 2,500J energy and particle size of as received
according to the OSHA NEP test protocol. Only appropriate Pittsburgh Coal data including
explosion severity obtained using a Hartmann Tube apparatus should be used in the
explosion severity calculation in the NEP protocol.

6.

BASIS OF SAFETY FROM DUST CLOUD EXPLOSIONS - Overview


Safety from dust cloud explosions could include taking measures to avoid an explosion
(explosion prevention) and/or designing facilities and equipment so that in the event of an
explosion people and facilities are protected (explosion protection) from injury. Selection
of explosion prevention and/or protection measures is usually based on:
The availability of information on the sensitivity of the powder(s) to ignition and the
resulting explosion severity
The nature of the processes and operations
The level of personnels knowledge and appreciation regarding the consequences of a
potential dust explosion and the reliability of administrative controls

Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

The environmental effects of a dust explosion


The business interruptions resulting from a dust explosion
The site/corporate Safety Culture: The desire to protect personnel and property
6.1

Explosion Prevention and Protection Measures


To ensure safety from dust explosion hazards one of the following measures is taken:
An explosible dust cloud is never allowed to form
o The atmosphere is sufficiently depleted of fuel so that it cannot support
combustion
o The atmosphere is sufficiently depleted of oxidant (normally the oxygen in
air) so that it cannot support combustion
All ignition sources capable of igniting the dust cloud are eliminated
Explosion protection measures mitigate ignition of a dust cloud
o Explosion Containment
o Explosion Suppression
o Explosion Relief Venting
o Explosion Isolation Measures

7.

CONCLUSION
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard # 654, Standard for the
Prevention of Fire and Dust Explosions from the Manufacturing, Processing and Handling
of Combustible Particulate Solids recommends that the evaluation of the hazard of a
combustible dust should be determined by the means of actual test data by evaluating each
situation and selecting applicable tests. According to NFPA 654 the factors that are
sometimes used in determining the deflagration hazard of a dust include:
-

Particle size distribution


Moisture content as received and as tested
Minimum explosible concentration
Minimum ignition energy
Maximum explosion pressure, Maximum rate of pressure rise, and Kst
Layer ignition temperature
Dust cloud ignition temperature
Limiting oxidant concentration (LOC) to prevent ignition
Electrical volume resistivity
Chargeability

A testing protocol (see table 1) exists for classifying powders as to their suitability for
particular handling/processing operations. By identifying the powder characteristics,
suitable preventive and protective measures (a basis of safety) can be determined for each
unit operation.
Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009

8.

REFERENCES
The following references provide further detail on the topics that have been discussed in
this paper:
1. Handling Dusts and Powders Safely A Strategic Guide to Characterization and
Understanding, Published by Chilworth Technology, 2006.
2. American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Testing Standards, West
Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, USA.
3. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 1 Batterymarch Park, PO Box 9101,
Quincy, MA 02269-9101.
4. Center for Chemical Process Safety (2005), Guidelines for Safe Handling of Powders
and Bulk Solids, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, New York, New York.
5. Eckhoff, Rolf K (1997), Dust Explosion in the Process Industries, 2nd Edition,
Butterworth-Heinemann Linacre House, Jordan Hill, Oxford.

Testing to Assess Explosion Characteristics of Dust Clouds, Vahid Ebadat, Chilworth Technology
NFPA Symposium on Dust Explosion Hazard Recognition and Control, Baltimore, May 13 14, 2009