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Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 341347 www.elsevier.

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Critical dimensions of holes and slots for transmission of gas explosions Some preliminary results for propane/air and cylindrical holes
ystein Larsen a, Rolf K. Eckhoff
a

b,*

Christian Michelsen Research AS, PO Box 6031 Postterminalen, N-5892 Bergen, Norway b University of Bergen, Physics Department, Allegaten 55, N-5007 Bergen, Norway

Abstract Critical hole diameters for explosion transmission from a primary virtually closed chamber into an ambient gas cloud were determined. Most of the present experiments were conducted with a 1-l primary chamber. The motivation for the study is twofold. First, results from this kind of experiment are of direct practical use in further improvement of design and maintenance procedures of ame-proof electrical equipment. However, such experiments can also contribute to improvement of the general understanding of the mechanisms of ame propagation in turbulent, premixed gases. The preliminary experimental results presented conrm that the minimum tube diameter for ame transmission depends strongly on the location of the ignition point. The generally accepted limiting values are conservative, in the sense that they can only be approached if the ignition source is located in a narrow zone in the vicinity of the entrance to the transmission hole. This must be taken into account if ame-proof equipment is to be designed on the basis of risk analysis. An observation related to mechanisms of turbulent ame propagation in premixed gases in general was also made. In the case of ignition far away from the transmission hole, i.e. for high gas velocities through the hole at the moment of ame front arrival at the hole, the re-ignition probability for a given hole diameter was in fact higher for offstoichiometric propane concentrations than for concentrations close to stoichiometry. The average chemical reaction rate in the primary chamber had its peak in the region of stoichiometry, and hence the pressure in the primary chamber at the moment of ame front arrival at the transmission hole entrance, was also at its maximum in that concentration range. Therefore, the average turbulence intensity in the potential re-ignition zone, and hence the rate of entrainment of cold unburnt gas by the hot jet was also at its maximum. Hence, a main reason for the observed effect may be that at stoichiometry more efcient cooling by cold-gas entrainment, compared with at leaner and richer mixtures, more than compensated for the faster chemical reaction. 2000 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Gas explosions; Flame-proof enclosures; Electrical equipment; Maximum experimental safe gap; Ignition sources

1. Introduction and objective 1.1. Design of ame-proof electrical equipment In essence, ame-proof implies that potential electrical ignition sources, e.g. sparking electrical switches and hot surfaces, be kept inside enclosures that are sufciently strong to withstand an internal gas explosion, should explosive gas mixtures enter the enclosure and become ignited. In addition, any gaps and holes in the enclosure wall must be sufciently narrow and long, to

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +47-555-8068; fax: +47-55-58-94-40. E-mail address: rolf.eckhoff@.uib.no (R.K. Eckhoff).

prevent ignition of a possible explosive gas cloud outside the enclosure, by jets of hot combustion products from the internal explosion. The origin of the ame-proof design concept dates back at least to the beginning of this century. Over the years a considerable number of publications on various aspects of ame-proof design have been produced, not least in the UK and Germany. The pioneering work by Beyling (1906) should be mentioned. An excellent upto-date review of existing knowledge has been provided by Beyer (1997). The main concern throughout has been to identify the critical minimum dimensions of gaps and holes in the enclosure wall, through which an internal gas explosion can be transmitted to an outside gas cloud. The result of this extensive work is a set of maximum-

0950-4230/00/$ - see front matter 2000 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 9 5 0 - 4 2 3 0 ( 9 9 ) 0 0 0 3 5 - 2

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experimental-safe-gap (MESG) values for a range of different gases and vapours in air, and for a wide selection of hole/gap geometries. The data have been included in current international (IEC) and European (CENELEC) standards (International Electrotechnical Commission, 1999; European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization, 1994), which also include a laboratory-scale method for determination of standard reference MESG values for gases and vapours. However, it is felt that current standards specify rather conservative maximum permissible hole and gap dimensions, which may give rise to excessive equipment production and maintenance costs. Hence, the question arises whether further, more detailed studies could provide a basis for justifying less rigorous requirements in some cases. Important parameters are the actual geometry of the open space inside the enclosure, and the probable locations of potential ignition sources. A further important factor, which is outside the scope of the present paper, is the probability that an explosive gas cloud can actually be generated inside the enclosure in the rst place. In the present investigation the inuence of the location of the ignition source on the critical hole diameter for ame transmission, has been studied in detail for simple enclosure shapes. The volume of the enclosure was also varied. The explosive gas mixture studied so far is propane/air. Propane is the reference gas for gas group II A, to which e.g. natural gas (except in coal mines) belongs. The experiments were performed in the small new gas explosion laboratory at the Department of Physics, University of Bergen. 1.2. Resolving mechanisms of turbulent gas ame propagation In addition to providing design data for ame-proof enclosures, ame transmission experiments may also contribute to resolving details of the mechanism of turbulent ame propagation in premixed gases. This is because the small turbulent zone, where hot combustion products from the primary chamber mix with cold unburnt gas outside, and where re-ignition may or may not take place, can be looked at as a small element of a turbulent ame front. Some important previous investigations discussing various aspects of this are described in Wolfhard & Bruszak (1960), Phillips (1963, 1987) and Thibault, Liu, Lee, Knystautas, Guirao, Hjertager et al. (1982). 2. Experimental apparatus and procedure 2.1. Apparatus The apparatus used in the present experiments is illustrated in Fig. 1. It consists of two cylindrical chambers

Fig. 1. Illustration of apparatus used for experimental determination of critical hole diameters for transmission of gas explosions. In the case shown, the volume of the primary chamber (bottom) is 1 l.

in series, a primary steel chamber, which is essentially closed and able to withstand full closed-vessel explosion pressures, and a secondary chamber, which is generously vented to the atmosphere. The two chambers are connected via a cylindrical hole, as was also the case in the work of Wolfhard & Bruszak (1960). In all the experiments reported in the present paper the length of the hole was 12.5 mm, whereas the hole diameter could be varied in steps of minimum 0.25 mm by replacing the hole plate indicated in Fig. 1. Two different, but geometrically similar, primary chambers were used, one of 108 mm internal diameter and length, and hence a volume of 1.0 l, and one of 30 mm internal diameter and length, and hence a volume of 0.021 l. In addition, experiments were performed with the 1-l chamber generously vented, which in the present context would correspond to a chamber of a much larger volume than 1 l. The primary chamber was equipped with a pair of electric spark electrodes that could be moved along the chamber axis. A piezoelectric transducer for recording the explosion pressure as a function of time, was mounted in the chamber wall. 2.2. Procedure Premixed propane/air of the desired composition was fed into the system through an inlet tube near the bottom of the primary chamber. An outlet tube and an extra relief were tted to the secondary chamber close to its top, which was covered by thin plastic foil. The propane

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concentrations at the inlet and outlet were monitored continuously by an infrared light absorption analyser and a high-accuracy oxygen analyser. The entire apparatus was ushed with the desired mixture until the outlet propane concentration at the top of the secondary chamber had become approximately equal to the inlet concentration at the bottom of the primary chamber (difference not larger than about 0.1 vol%). Then the inlet and outlet valves were closed and the experiment started. The experiment was run by a PC. Whether or not explosion transmission occurrred in an experiment was determined visually and by ear without any difculty. In addition, complete records of pressure versus time in the primary chamber, referred to the moment of ignition, were obtained in all the experiments. However, these data were of limited value because in general it was not possible to deduce with sufcient accuracy the pressure at the moment of ame front arrival at the transmission hole entrance, which determines the mass ow of the initial hot-gas jet entering the secondary chamber, for any given hole diameter. In future investigations this problem will be solved. When performing experiments with one given primary chamber and one given gas composition, the distance Xi between the ignition point and the hole entrance was normally varied in steps of 1 mm, keeping the diameter of the transmission hole constant. Up to ten replicate tests were conducted at each distance. The largest/smallest Xi at any given hole diameter, which gave no re-ignitions (ame transmissions) in ten tests, and the smallest/largest that gave ten re-ignitions in ten tests, were recorded (see Fig. 2). Once this had been completed for a given hole diameter, another value was

selected, and the same procedure repeated. The hole diameter was varied in steps of minimum 0.25 mm.

3. Results and discussion 3.1. Inuence of ignition source location on critical hole diameter for ame transmission with 1-l primary chamber A characteristic set of results, showing essentially a strong increase of the critical hole diameter for explosion transmission, with distance Xi from the ignition point to the hole entrance, is given in Fig. 2. However, it is clearly shown that the minimum critical hole diameter did not occur with the ignition point exactly at the hole entrance, but at a small nite distance away from it. The critical hole diameter in fact increased systematically again when the ignition point got very close to the hole entrance. With ignition exactly at the hole entrance, ame transmission is probably by laminar ame propagation straight through the hole, rather than by reignition downstream of the hole. The results in Fig. 2 indicate that the minimum tube diameter for re-ignition (ame transmission) is about half the minimum diameter for laminar ame propagation. This is in good agreement with the rule-of-thumb that the MESG of a pre-mixed gas is about half its laminar quenching distance. The results in Fig. 2 demonstrate that in some situations the lowest critical diameter values only occur for a quite restricted domain of ignition point locations. For example, with ignition at 20 mm upstream of the hole entrance, the critical hole diameter is about 5 mm, as opposed to the minimum value 1.75 mm for Xi=9 mm.

Fig. 2. Results from experiments with a cylindrical 1-l primary chamber. Xi is the distance from the electric spark ignition source on the chamber axis, to the entrance of the axial cylindrical ame transmission hole of diameter D and length 12.5 mm. 4.2 vol% propane in air.

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3.2. Inuence of volume of primary explosion chamber Fig. 3 shows the results from a series of experiments performed at the same conditions as the experiments giving the results in Fig. 2, with one exception: the entire bottom of the primary chamber had been removed. (Note: During gas lling the open bottom was closed by a cover that was removed carefully just prior to ignition.) The anticipated effect of this modication would be that even with quite large Xi values the explosion pressures would be low at the moment of ame arrival at the hole entrance. This would correspond to the situation in a very large closed primary chamber. Fig. 3 conrms that the minimum critical hole diameter occurred at a considerably higher Xi value than in Fig. 2, i.e. 4060 mm as opposed to 9 mm. Furthermore, there was no marked increase of the critical diameter when increasing Xi beyond the 4060 mm range. Fig. 4 gives the results from similar experiments with a very small primary chamber (0.021 l). In this case, the minimum critical hole diameter was slightly larger (2.25 mm) than the value found with the 1-l primary chamber (1.75 mm). As expected, the minimum occurred at a smaller Xi than with the 1-l chamber (Fig. 2). One simple rst order idealised assumption could have been that, for geometrically similar primary chambers, the Xi value giving a certain critical hole diameter, would be proportional to a characteristic linear chamber dimension. A quantitative comparison of the data in Figs. 2 and 4 reveals that reality is more complex than that.

3.3. Optimal propane concentration in air for ame transmission This part of the work indicates the potential of the kind of explosion transmission experiments performed, in resolving basic mechanisms of turbulent gas ame propagation in general. Published work on MESG for various gases and vapours conrms that MESG as a function of the gas/air ratio, determined in the standard apparatus with the ignition point close to the hole/gap entrance, is generally a smooth U-shaped curve, similar to the characteristic curves for minimum electric spark energies as functions of the gas/air ratio. Alfert (1985) conrmed that this also applies to propane/air. Fig. 5 shows one set of results from the determination of such a relationship with the 1-l primary chamber and a very large ignition point distance, Xi, of 94 mm (nearly 90% of the internal height of the chamber). The curve in Fig. 5 exhibits no distinct minimum, but rather a constant level of minimum hole diameters for ame transmission, over a wide propane concentration range, from 3 to 6 vol%. This could mean that, in the vicinity of the stoichiometric concentration, under the prevailing conditions, some mechanism counteracting efcient reignition is compensating for the more favourable chemical conditions. Fig. 6 resolves this in greater detail. Here the actual probability of re-ignition, for exactly the same experiments as reported in Fig. 5, has been plotted as a func-

Fig. 3. Results from experiments with a cylindrical 1-l primary chamber with the bottom removed. Xi is the distance from the electric spark ignition source on the chamber axis, to the entrance of the axial cylindrical ame transmission hole of diameter D and length 12.5 mm. 4.2 vol% propane in air.

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Fig. 4. Results from experiments with a cylindrical 0.021-l primary chamber. Xi is the distance from the electric spark ignition source on the chamber axis, to the entrance of the axial cylindrical ame transmission hole of diameter D and length 12.5 mm. 4.2 vol% propane in air.

Fig. 5. Results from experiments with a cylindrical 1-l primary chamber. The distance Xi from the electric spark ignition source on the chamber axis, to the entrance of the cylindrical ame transmission hole is 94 mm. Hole diameter is represented by D and the hole length is 12.5 mm.

tion of gas composition, and a distinct, systematic drop of re-ignition probability is in fact exposed in the region of stoichiometry. In global terms the explanation may be as follows. The comparatively large ame transmission hole diameter of 9.5 mm provided efcient venting of the primary vessel. Therefore, the maximum pressure in this vessel, at the moment of ame arrival at the hole entrance, increased with increasing combustion rate (heat production per unit time) of the gas mixture in the vessel, having its peak value in the region of stoichiometry. Consequently, the mass ow rate of hot gas through the

hole just after ame arrival at the hole entrance, and the average turbulence intensity in the downstream jet at that moment, also had their maxima in this concentration region. It seems that, at stoichiometry, the increased rate of cooling of the potential re-ignition zone due to the increased turbulent entrainment of cold gas mixture, compared with that at about 3 and 5 vol% propane, was able to hamper re-ignition more effectively than the increased chemical reaction rate could promote it. For comparison Fig. 6 also provides the corresponding data for the experiments reported in Fig. 4. In this case, however, the ignition location Xi was only 3 mm, at

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Fig. 6. Results from experiments with two cylindrical primary chambers of volumes 1.0 and 0.021 l, respectively. Xi is the distance from the electric spark ignition source on the chamber axis, to the entrance of the cylindrical ame transmission hole of diameter D. P is the probability of re-ignition based on ten tests.

which the critical hole diameter for ame transmission had its minimum. Therefore, the jet of hot combustion products that was expelled from the transmission hole was comparatively weak, and hence the turbulence intensity in the jet low. This gave a distinct peak of the probability of re-ignition in the region of stoichiometry, where the combustion rate is at its maximum.

4. Further work 4.1. Experimental The preliminary experiments reported did not permit sufciently accurate determination of the pressure in the primary chamber at the moment of ame front arrival at the hole entrance. The experimental set-up will be developed further to accomplish this. Equipment for high-speed Schlieren recording of the re-ignition process has been set up and some preliminary records have been obtained of the re-ignition zone in the secondary chamber, as illustrated in Fig. 7. In future experiments the primary chamber will be equipped with windows that will permit Schlieren recording of the ame propagation even upstream of the transmission hole. If circumstances permit, future work may be extended to comprise even Laser-Induced Fluorescence (LIF) and Laser Doppler Anemometry (LDA). 4.2. Development of CFD-based simulation model A central concern of the experimental programme is to provide data required for improving existing mathematical models and numerical codes for simulating
Fig. 7. High-speed video Schlieren pictures of hot gas jets expelled from a 0.021-l primary chamber via a straight cylindrical hole of diameter 4 mm and length 12.5 mm. 4.2 vol% propane in both inside and outside primary chamber. Pictures taken 4.25 ms after ignition in the primary chamber.

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ame propagation in turbulent gases. An ultimate goal is to obtain a comprehensive numerical CFD-based model of the entire experimental event discussed in the present paper, from ignition and ame ball development inside the primary chamber, via ejection of turbulent unburnt gas and hot combustion gases through the transmission hole, to possible re-ignition. This part of the work will be performed in parallel with the experimental investigation, and in close cooperation with CMR in Bergen, Norway, where extensive expertise on numerical modelling of gas explosions has been accumulated over the last 18 years (the CMR FLACS code). Acknowledgements This paper is a summary of the research work conducted by ystein Larsen for the degree of cand. scient. (M.Sc.) of the University of Bergen. The authors wish to thank the foundation L. Meltzers Hyskolefond, Bergen, and Mobil Exploration Norway, for valuable nancial support, without which this work could not have been performed. References
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Beyer, M. (1997). Uber den Zunddurchschlag explodierender Gasgem ische an Gehausen der Zundschutzart Druckfeste Kapselung. VDI Progress Report, Series 21, No. 228, VDI Verlag GmbH, Dus seldorf, Germany. Beyling, C. (1906). Versuche zwecks Erprobung der Schlagwettersicherheit besonders geschutzter Motoren und Apparate. Gluckauf, 42, 113. European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (1994). Electrical apparatus for potentially explosive atmospheres. Flameproof enclosures d. European Standard EN 50018, CENELEC Central Secretariat, Brussels. International Electrotechnical Commission (1999). Electrical apparatus for potentially explosive atmospheresFlameproof enclosures d. New revised standard in preparation (practically identical with the CENELEC standard). IEC, Geneva, Switzerland. Phillips, H. (1963). On the transmission of an explosion through a gap smaller than the quenching distance. Combustion and Flame, 7, 129135. Phillips, H. (1987). The physics of the maximum experimental safe gap. In Proceedings of an International Symposium on Explosion Hazard Classication of Vapors, Gases and Dusts. National Materials Advisory Board Publ. NMAB-447 (pp. 6581). USA: National Academy Press. Thibault, P., Liu, Y. K., Lee, J. H. S., Knystautas, R., Guirao, C., Hjertager, B. H., & Fuhre, K. (1982). Transmission of an explosion through an orice. In Proceedings of the 19th Symposium (International) on Combustion (pp. 599606). The Combustion Institute. Wolfhard, H. G., & Bruszak, A. E. (1960). The passage of explosions through narrow cylindrical channels. Combustion and Flame, 4, 149159.