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Prevention and control of spontaneous combustion of coal in storage area

Autor: Rogobete Marius, Universitatea din Petroani

Coordonatori: Cozma Eugen, Goldan Tudor, Universitatea din
ABSTRACT: Spontaneous combustion of stockpiled coal a highly undesirable event has been studied
extensively in the last century. The coal is heated due to oxidation and moisture adsorption and
spontaneous combustion occurs when the heat released within the pile cannot be disipated at near ambient
temperatures. The goal of this study is to determine the multiplicity features of a one-dimensional model
in order to obtain simple criteria predicting the conditions under which the desired extinguished state
exists for all particle sizes and when a transition to the ignited state (combustion) occurs at some particle
size. This information is valuable for determining the key parameters, which affect the spontaneous
1. The coal stockpile ignition problem
Spontaneous combustion of coals is the result of the complex phenomena associated with the
atmospheric oxidation of coals. This low temperature reaction may occur in mines, during mining or
postmining stages whenever the coal is exposed to oxygen. It is an exothermic reaction and its rate
increases with temperature [5]. If the heat generated by coal oxidation is not dissipated at the same rate,
heat is accumulated in the mine/seam, or the pile, and the temperature increases. With higher
temperatures the rate of the reaction and, therefore, the rate of heat generation increases. In such cases,
when the ignition temperature of the coal is reached, the coal autoignites.
When the condition is violated there exists a critical particle size Rar below which ignition
occurs. This value can be found from the intersection of the bifurcation set shown in An analytical
expression for the ignition point may be obtained using a simplification that is frequently used in the
thermal explosion theory. The simplification assumes that on the extinguished (low-temperature) branch
the reactant consumption is very low and Y 1. Moreover, it is assumed that the dimensionless
temperature rise is very small ( - 1 << 1), so that the Arrhenius temperature dependence can be replaced
by the positive exponential approximation

exp 1 e w


where is the dimensionless activation energy, is the dimensionless temperature and

w = ( 1)


Using these assumptions, the steady state equation for the lumped thermal model simplifies to

= 2 w + Ra *r w 2 exp( w ) f1 (w )


where Ra is the Rayleigh number.

= Dar ,

Ra *r =

Ra r


where Dar is the Damkohler number Dar (coal reactivities) when the and values are above the
uniqueness boundary for the proper Rar value.
At the ignition point, f1(w) has an extremum. This occurs [7] at

wi = 1

+ 1+
Ra r

( )



( )

i = 2 Ra*r + 1 + Ra*r

1 + 1 1 + 1




( )


For sufficiently small values of the Rayleigh number Rar*, the ignition point approaches the conduction

wi = 1

i = 2e 1 = 0.736


on which conduction is the main mechanism of heat removal, while for sufficiently large values of Rar* it
approaches the convection asymptote

wi = 2

/ Ra *r = 4e 2 = 0.541


on which natural convection is the main mechanism of heat loss. The ignition points, computed by Eq.
(6), are plotted in figure 1, clearly showing the two asymptotes. The transition from the conduction
asymptote to the convection asymptote occurs at Rar* of order unity.

Figure 1. Locus of ignition point.

We first present typical solutions to our model problem to set the stage for a critical examination
of the different numerical formulations. Figure 2 shows a bifurcation diagram for the coal stockpile
ignition problem where the maximum dimensionless temperature of the coal pile is plotted for each
steady state solutions as the Damkohler number Da is varied.

Figure 2. A bifurcation diagram plots the maximum temperature of steady state solutions versus the
Damkohler number Da for both the Brinkman and Darcy formulations.


The system exhibits multiple steady state solutions over a large range of Damkohler Numbers 10 Da 1.
The S-shaped curves shown here are commom for systems which display hysteresis phenomena
and consist of three separate branches. The lower branch, near Tmax = 0, consists of stable, extinguished
steady states.
This solution branch terminates at a turning point near Da 1, which is termed the ignition point.
The central section of the curve, where the slope is negative, represents temporally unstable steady state
solutions. The upper branch is formed by stable, ignited solutions where reaction and transport rates are
high enough to sustain vigorous combustion in the coal pile [6]. The ignited branch is bounded by a
turning point, termed the extinction point, at lower values of Damkohler number.
The bifurcation diagram discussed previously (Figure 2) shows curves obtained from both the
Darcy and Brinkman formulations. Interestingly, although the position of the ignited branches clearly
differ, the formulations yield results which appear to be quite similar along the lower and middle branches
of the diagram. However, a careful comparison of the predicted flows within the porous medium reveals
significant differences between the two formulations.

2. Factors that affect spontaneous combustion of coal

The factors that affect the heat generation capacity of a coal [1] are those that affect its oxygen
1. Coal rank oxygen reactivity of coal degreases with rank. This emanates from fact that the
amount of oxygen reactive sites in the coal material decreases as rank increases.
2. Extent of previous oxidation the relationship between the rate of oxidation and time varies
with coal type, temperature and duration of observation. It is for this reason that a number of different
models have been developed describe the coal oxidation process. However, observations generally show
that oxidation rate decreases with extent of oxidation, especially in the initial stages.
3. Temperature rate of coal oxydation increases with temperature. Also, additional exothermic
reactions start taking place as temperature increases thus increasing tha rate of heat generation further.
With higher temperatures the rate of the reaction and, therefore, the rate of heat generation
increases. In such cases, when the ignition temperature of the coal is reached, the coal autoignite.
The process can be illustrated as follows [8]:


Coal + O2 products + qG
qG: heat generated
qD: heat dissipated

dqG dq D

heat accumulates temperature increases (Tnew > Told)

rate of heat generation increases

rate of oxidation increases

dq G
> G

dt new dt old
4. Oxygen pressure observations on the relationship between oxidation rate and oxygen partial
pressure reveal that oxidation rate increases with oxygen partial pressure.
5. Particle size it is widely reported that the rate of coal oxidation increases with decreasing
particle size. However, the effects of particle size may depend on the porosity of the coal, with highly
porous coals, the size of the coal particles may not affect the rate of the process in the size range where
less porous coals are affected.
6. Thermal conductivity heat is carried away from the hot parts of the seam/pile by conduction
through the coal-air-water mass. The amount of heat that can be conducted depends on the overall
conductivity of the seam/pile. The overall conductivity of the seam/pile is determined by the thermal
conductivities of the individual constituents, i.e. coal, air and water, and their overall geometry.
7. Receptiveness of the seam/pile to air circulation convection is another way of heat dissipation
from a hot spot. Depending on the amount of air circulating through the mine/seam/pile, the generated
heat can be transferred out of the hot zone by convection. It should be noted that the amount of air


circulating within the zone, as determined by the geometry of the zone, also determines the prevailing
oxygen partial pressure. And, the partial pressure of oxygen has a direct effect on the heat generation rate.
Comprehensive investigations on the subject reveal the followin.
The observed self-heating of a coal can be solely attributed to the oxidation of the coal only if an
equilibrium exists between the humidity of the surrounding and moisture in the coal.
When there is an increase in the humidity of the air relative to the vapour pressure exerted by the
coal moisture, the generation of heat during oxidation increases due to the simultaneous sorption of water
by the coal.
When there is a decrease in the humidity of air relative to the vapour pressure exerted by the coal
moisture, water desorbs from the coal utilizing the heat produced by the oxydation of the coal. The
subsequent result is a coal temperature lower than it would have been if all the heat released by the coal
oxidation were utilized for self-heating.
These findings reveal that the effects of coal moisture and atmospheric humidity cannot be
divorced from one another. They interact and the thermal outcome of this interaction may promote or
retard seld-heating of the coal.
3. Prevention and control
The principle that applies in all recommended methods of prevention is to control the heat
generating and heat dissipating factors so as to reduce the rate of heat generation and to increase the rate
of heat dissipation. In mines [2]:
Air flow into the mine should be controlled at a level and pattern that minimizes coal
oxidation but allows heat transfer out of the mine.
Partial extraction which leaves part of the coal seam in the goaf should be avoided.
The design of the pillars should be such that they do not promote self-heating in the seams.
The electric equipment used should be flame proof.
Air flow into the mined out areas should be prevented. Gateroad side fillings and foams
should be used where necessary.
The safety recommendations made with regard to stockpile (stockyard/transportation) design and
management are [4]:
Storage area should be level, firm, well drained and free of easily burning material.
The long axis of the stockpile should be oriented in the direction of the prevailing winds.
Height of the pile should be kept to a minimum because:
o the effective resistance to heat flow is lower;
o size segregation is less;
o it is easier to remove hot spots when they occur.
Size segregation should be avoided since zones of coarse coal act as chimneys for conducting
air into the pile. Stockpiles should therefore be well consolidated by compacting after each
addition of about a meter thick layer of coal. The outer surface of the pile sould also be
Top of the pile should be levelled since size segregation is promoted in conical stockpiles.
Preferably coal should not be piled in hot weather.
Coals from different sources should not be piled together.
Wet coals should not be piled with dry coals.
In the case of very reactive coals, it may be necessary to use protective coatings or inhibitors.
The electric equipment used should definetely be flame proof.
Despite all the care that might have been taken during mining and stockpiling, reactive seams and
stockpiles need to be monitored continually in order to avert fire dangers promptly and effectively. The
two widely used monitoring methods are gas analysis and temperature measurement.
The gaseous products of oxidation, and therefore of self-heating, at the very early stages are CO,
CO2 and H2O. Methane, hydrogen and other light hydrocarbons are released as the temperature rises and
other heat generating reactions start off [3]. It has been found that monitoring the levels of CO in the coal
atmosphere is the most effective way of detecting signs of spontaneous combustion at an early stage. The
ratio of carbon monoxide concentration to oxygen deficiency (CO/O2 deficiency) in the mine atmosphere,
Grahams Index, has become the most widely used indicator of the occurrence of spontaneous


Since rising temperature are signs of self-heating, temperature monitoring is widely used in the
detection of hot zones at or below the surface in mines or stockpiles. Infra-red detectors are found to be
most suitable in the measurement of surface temperatures. In the subsurface measurements, temperature
probes are generally used. These probes are basically a thermocuple mounted in a sturdy external case
with appropriate geometry to allow the intimate contact of the coal with the sensor.
Despite all the precautions, the mine/seam or the pile may ignite. Since the ignition is usually
subsurface, the fire will be indicated by the smell of tars and sulphurous gases and the above signs will be
accompanied by the sight of flames.
The countermeasures to be taken serve to cut off the oxygen supply and cool off the hot zone.
Cutting off the oxygen supply is accomplished by sealing the zone or nitrogen injection. Cooling of the
hot zones with water spraying is frequently practised. Digging out the hot spots and repiling is a comman
practice in stockpile management [9].
4. Conclusions
Coal may combust spontaneously in mines or in storage when and if the rate of heat generation
exceeds the rate of heat dissipation. In order to avoid spontaneous combustion of coals, the principle of
minimizing the heat generationa and maximizing the heat dissipation capacities of the coal bulk should be
applied in all stages of mining, handling, transporting and stockpiling of coals.
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