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Fuel Processing Technology 59 1999.


Prevention of spontaneous combustion in coal stockpiles Experimental results in coal storage yard
V. Fierro a , J.L. Miranda a,) , C. Romero a , J.M. Andres a , b c c A. Arriaga , D. Schmal , G.H. Visser

Instituto de Carboqumica (C.S.I.C), P.O. Box 589, 50080 Zaragoza, Spain b ENDESA, 44500 Andorra-Teruel, Spain c TNO, P.O. Box 342, 7300 AH Apeldoorn, Netherlands Received 9 September 1998; accepted 25 January 1999

Abstract The spontaneous ignition of coal stockpiles is a serious economic and safety problem. This paper deals with oxidation and spontaneous combustion of coal piles laid in coal storage yard and the measures to avoid the heat losses produced. Investigations on self heating were carried out with five test piles 20003000 tons. built at the ENDESA power station in Teruel Spain., and the results are here reported. The efficiency of several measures to reduce the heat losses were tested: periodic compaction, the use of a low angle slope, protection of the coal stockpiled with an artificial barrier and covering it with an ashwater slurry made with fly ash from the same power station. Wind tunnel tests were used to design the wind barrier which was showed to be very effective although the results indicated that the best way to avoid the heat losses is the use of an ashwater slurry to cover the coal pile. A direct method to determine the coefficient of total losses was developed and the coefficients of heat losses and total losses were determined. The agreement between the temperatures measured by infrared thermography and thermocouples leads to the conclusion that this technique is also a very effective method to quantify heat emissions from coal piles. q 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Coal; Stockpiles; Spontaneous combustion

Corresponding author. Tel.: q34-976-733977; fax: q34-976-733318; e-mail:

0378-3820r99r$ - see front matter q 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 3 7 8 - 3 8 2 0 9 9 . 0 0 0 0 5 - 3


V. Fierro et al.r Fuel Processing Technology 59 (1999) 2334

1. Introduction Low-temperature oxidation of coal is the primary source of heat leading to uncontrolled and mainly undesired changes in thermal properties and under favourable conditions, to spontaneous combustion, which in turn can result in damage and financial losses. The understanding of the process is clearly important for prevention of fires in coal stockpiles. Various exothermic processes such as low temperature oxidation, microbial metabolism, the adsorptiondesorption of water due to the differences between real and equilibrium moisture concentrations of lignite and air and oxidation of pyrite can contribute to the self heating of coal and spontaneous combustion w17x. The transport of the reactants and transport of heat also play a role in the spontaneous heating of coal. Heat is transported away from the sites where it is generated due to temperature gradients; conduction and convection are the responsible mechanisms. Oxygen and water take part in the heat generating processes and they are also transported by diffusion and convection. Convection in coal piles may be caused by differences in wind pressure at the surface of the pile forced convection. and differences in temperature between the pile and the surrounding air free or natural convection.. Following the work of Brooks and Glasser w8x most recent publications have assumed that natural convection is the primary cause of flow of air within the stockpile w912x. However, wind-driver forced convection cannot be neglected, in fact, it may be the major factor which influences the initial heating of the coal pile w13x. Detailed large-scale experimental investigations of self heating in coal stockpiles are expensive and few results are reported in the literature w5,7,14,15x. Nevertheless, observations have identified that the most important considerations in safe stockpiling are: ventilation, size segregation of particles and angle of the slopes of the stockpile. Coal stockpiles are safe in the two extremities of air circulation: absence or abundance of circulation. It has been noted that compaction of the pile to restrict the availability of air is more effective in preventing fires than trying to increase the degree of ventilation w16x. Reduction of the pore volume between the coal particles increasing the degree of compaction lowers the ventilation and consequently the tendency to spontaneous heating. Other solution is the protection of the coal storage yard with natural or artificial barriers placed along its perimeter. Covering stockpiles with inert materials is also a mean for preventing spontaneous combustion. Various approaches and their inherent advantagesrdisadvantages for particular situations have been discussed by Williams et al. w17x, Brooks w18x, Glasser and Bradshaw w19x and Raftopoulus w20x. Particle segregation during storage also results in fires, with hot spots occurring in regions of particle segregation. Thus, when a new pile of coal is laid on an existing weathered pile, fires occur in the plane of contact between the two piles. It appears that wind plays a major role in the self heating of piles, as the fires almost always occur on the windward side of the pile. The slope of the pile affects to the resistance to flow and therefore, at a given wind velocity, a coal pile with gentler slopes will be less dangerous.

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Up to now, the coefficients of losses have been determined indirectly w14,15x, from the data obtained for gas composition in the pile, rate of ventilation through the pile, bulk density and dimensions of the pile, and from an estimate of the proportion of the coal surface area of coal in the pile through which the gas leaves the pile. In this work, a direct method to determine the heat and total losses has been developed. This work is focused on the efficiency analysis of the different measures applied to reduce the heat losses produced by oxidation and spontaneous combustion of coal piles. The experimental coal piles were built at ENDESA coal storage yard in Andorra Teruel. and they allowed us to test the efficiency of the periodic compaction, use of a low angle slope in the prevailing wind direction and pile protection by artificial barriers or covering with an inert layer to prevent self heating and spontaneous combustion of the coal stocked. Experiments with a wind tunnel were also carried out by TNO for a better design of the artificial barrier.

2. Experimental The coal selected for the experimental named Mezcla is a typical coal of the Teruel basins. The main properties of this coal are shown in Table 1; remarkable is its high content in ash and pyritic sulphur, the content in sulphates is also high, pointing out the evidence of previous weathering. The high concentration in peroxides, high value of the heat generation rate and the above mentioned content in pyrite indicate that this coal is highly dangerous with respect to spontaneous combustion properties. Bulk density, water density, particle size distribution, specific surface area, infrared and Mossbauer spectroscopies as well as other calorimetric tests were done for better characterisation of this coal. The experimental work was developed in two stages. During the first stage the coal stockpiles were laid to test the efficiency of periodic compaction and the use of low angle slope piles in order to prevent the spontaneous ignition of the coal. Only one slope of low angle was oriented in the prevailing wind direction. Later, during the second stage, the objective was avoid at maximum the air flow on coal stockpiles protecting the

Table 1 Properties of coal selected, Mezcla Analysis Volatiles %. Ash %. Fixed carbon %. Pyritic sulphur %. Sulphate sulphur %. Higher calorific value kcal kgy1 . Peroxide number eq. perox. g coaly1 . Thermal conductivity W mKy1 . 208C Heat generation rate mW kgy1 . 408C 33.0 31.0 36.0 3.60 0.39 4,711 7.7=10y5 0.113 600


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Table 2 Characteristics of the piles built Pile A B C PBV PCB Protection system Reference. No protection. Periodical compaction of slopes. Low angle WNW slope Wind screen Covered with fly ashwater slurry Weight tons. 2059 3161 2596 2071 2045 Time days. 270 270 270 250 190

coal pile with an artificial barrier or covering it with an ashwater slurry from the same power plant. The characteristics of the piles are shown in Table 2. A truncated quadrangular pyramid with access ramp was the geometry of the piles. Based on previous experience, the coal was compacted by layers of 1.50 m to reach an approximated porosity of 15%. One of the slopes of the three piles, WNW slope, was oriented to the direction of the prevailing wind. In the pile C this slope was built with low angle 20258. instead of normally ) 458. Pile A was built as a reference pile and the compaction of pile B slopes was repeated twice a week during the first 80 days and later once a week until 110 days, then the compaction was stopped deliberately. The distance among the piles was enough to keep a separation to prevent mutual influence on the spontaneous heating behaviour. Protection methods to reduce losses based in actions on the shape of slopes and periodical compactions were studied by ENDESArCSIC and TNO. The study to optimise the characteristics of the wind screen and to reach a realistic design was carried out in the experimental wind tunnel of TNO by means of scale models 1:100. The effect of wind screens has been studied by measuring the wind pressures over the coal pile. The reduction of wind pressure caused by the wind screen is determined by a lot of variables as: permeability, height, length, distance to the base of the coal pile, shape and flow in the wind direction. These variables, in the range of realistic values, were studied in several phases by means of tests in the wind tunnel. Three options were considered for the wind barrier design and the choice was made on technical and economical basis. The wind screen was built, following strictly the specifications given by TNO and shown in Fig. 1. The barrier was made of pine boards supported by vertical iron beams which were anchored in the ground and the distance to the base of the coal pile was 5 m. The width of the boards was 0.20 m, with openings between the boards of 0.085 m, to reach the required 28% of permeability. The total surface of the wind barrier was 145 m2 . Other pile was covered with a fly ashwater slurry from the same thermal power station. This sealing material was chosen among other limestone, clay, coal fines, brick powders, gypsum, etc.. due to the following features: low costs, easiness of application, compatibility with the coal, resistance to the wind and rain, no permeability to the wind, availability on the site no transport., and absence of technical and legal problems in combustion. In the selection of a coating material, chemical inhibitors were not taken into account to avoid technical problems in their application. Fly ash, 16.08 tons, with a ratio 3.7:1 wrw. fly ashwater was used to form the slurry which was applied by mean

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Fig. 1. Scheme of the wind barrier.

of a mixer truck for concrete from the top of the pile by distributing the slurry along the slope surfaces. Stainless steel probes with thermocouples and sampling ports 3.00 m, 1.50 m and 0.60 m of length. were positioned into the piles to record the temperatures and to collect samples of gases O 2 , CO 2 , CO and CH 4 .. As an example, a topographic map of the coal pile A is shown in Fig. 2 where the location of the probes can be easily seen. In the same figure, there is a table with the length and levels of the probes used, levels 1, 2 and 3 correspond to different depths in the coal piles expressed in meters. The measures done at these levels allowed us to know the temperature and the concentration of the gases above mentioned at different locations and their evolution with time. In this way, it is possible to detect the starting and development of the oxidation and self heating processes. The structural changes produced in the stockpiled coals were studied by FT-IR and chemical analysis on the solid samples taken from the piles at different time intervals.

Fig. 2. Topographic map of the pile A with the location of the probes and the table with the probes and levels.


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The coefficients of total losses, weight losses and calorific value losses were calculated using the difference between the therms, the weight and the calorific value, respectively at the beginning and after removing the piles all of them on dry basis.. All the piles except for that covered with an ashwater slurry were also studied by infrared thermography. With this technique, the energy produced into coal piles is calculated using a mathematical model of heat transmission. The losses of calorific value were also evaluated by means of this method and the results compared with those obtained experimentally. 3. Results The most interesting phase in the evolution of coal piles are the first 50 days, significant roles are played in this period by: the characteristics of coal reactivity, particle size distribution, moisture content, etc.., characteristics of the pile geometry, shape, porosity, etc.. and meteorological conditions direction and intensity of wind, temperature, humidity, etc... The study of the average temperature in the piles pointed out the important differences of temperature that can be reached. The average temperatures for the five coal piles tested are shown in Fig. 3. 3.1. Pile A (reference) Pile A, used as reference, showed to be very active in the first 100 days, high temperatures were detected even greater than 5008C, later the average temperature was approximately constant as can be seen in Fig. 3. This is produced because there is a

Fig. 3. Variation of the average temperature with time for the five coal piles tested.

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certain balance of the heat produced in the pile and the heat losses caused by natural convection due to the low compaction of the slopes which allows the air to enter in but also produces the heat losses in hot spots. The high activity of this pile could be explained by the high angle ) 458. of their slopes which provides easy entering of the flow of wind into the pile, increasing significantly natural and forced convection. Removing the pile, ash layers of 0.400.50 m of thickness were found in the external part of the slopes. 3.2. Pile B (periodic compaction) It is well known that a smaller porosity of the pile reduces the tendency toward spontaneous heating. Usually the compaction is done at the beginning of the experimental work, here, periodical compaction was applied during the first 110 days. The increase in the temperature in pile B was constant with a more severe increase at days 90 and 170 as can be observed in Fig. 3. The ash presence was not caused by internal hot spots but by coal combustion at the surface of the pile and the effects of spontaneous combustion were delayed with respect to piles A and C. This pile did not show external signals of self heating up to 30 days after construction, evidences of spontaneous combustion were observed in the upper part of NNE slope no accessible to periodical compaction.. Afterwards this focus moved superficially towards slopes ESE and WNW, as can be seen in Fig. 4, where the average temperature for every slope is shown. In this pile, the heat transmission was due to conduction without significant importance of the natural convection. In this case the good compaction of the slopes reduced the entrance of oxygen, but the formation of hot spots in zones of lower compaction could lead to a

Fig. 4. Variation of the average temperature with time for all the slopes in pile B.


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general heating of the pile. This pile, with a lower cooling effect than pile A, could have had a similar danger of self heating if it had been studied for a longer period of time. 3.3. Pile C (low angle slope) The slope of the coal pile is one of the most important considerations in safe stockpiling. Pile C was built with a low angle slope oriented to the prevailing wind. In this pile, evidences of self heating and superficial wet spots were observed the 9th day at SSW slope. This pile showed a deep increase in the average temperature during the first 40 days as can be observed in Fig. 3. The activity of this pile was similar to pile A, except for the WNW low angle slope which showed an excellent behaviour during the all experimental period with a maximum temperature of 678C. 3.4. Pile PBV (wind barrier) The pile protected with the wind barrier did not show signals of self heating or spontaneous combustion during the experimental period. The most notorious effect detected in pile PBV was the anomalous increase of temperature observed in the probes placed in the WNW slope between days 30 and 55, in that period of time the pile was without protection, since the wind screen had fallen because of a strong storm with snow and rain. After the reconstruction of the wind screen a significant decrease of temperature was observed pointing out the high efficiency of the wind screen. The evolution of the average temperature at the slope WNW can be seen in Fig. 5 where the temperatures for the rest of the slopes are also shown. In general, high temperatures were not recorded and the average temperature of the pile was lower than those measured in piles A, B and

Fig. 5. Variation of the average temperature with time for all the slopes in pile PBV.

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C. Although superficial weathering effects were observed in some zones of the slopes, spontaneous combustion of the coal only was developed in the ESE slope at the end of the experimental period. 3.5. Pile PCB (fly ashwater slurry) The effect of covering coal stockpiles with an inert layer was studied by Kok et al. w14x; spraying a coal pile of similar size with a latex product and the application of several sealing material was qualitatively discussed by Raftopoulus w20x. However, this is the first time that a fly ashwater slurry has been used in coal piles of this size. The evolution of the average temperature was also plotted in Fig. 6, where it can be observed that the increase of the temperatures is smooth and constant up to the day 65, from this day to the 110 the temperatures measured were higher due to the low humidity in the air and the absence of rain. The maximum temperature recorded was 88.58C after 107 days and the total average temperature of this pile was 41.08C at the end of the experimental period. The average temperatures for all the slopes were low, as can be seen in Fig. 6, pointing out its lower activity. Thus, this pile can be considered as a cold pile. The evolution of the ash layer was very satisfactory supporting well rain, wind and temperature variations. To keep the adequate moisture content, periodically the ash layer was irrigated carefully. The loss in covering by rain, wind, etc., was lower than 5% of the total protected surface. In general, oxygen concentrations measured in the three piles decreased in those periods in which the temperatures increased pointing out exothermic processes due to the formation of oxygenated complexes and pyrite oxidation. The abrupt increases of temperature were preceded, normally, by a clear decrease of the oxygen concentration.

Fig. 6. Variation of the average temperature with time for all the slopes in pile PCB.


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4. Discussion 4.1. Ealuation of the calorific and mass losses After the experimental period, all piles were removed and the coal was weighed and sampled using the ENDESA practical standards. in order to check the potential variations. During the period of time between the construction and the removal of a coal pile the mass and calorific losses can be due to several causes such as: partial or total coal combustion, volatile compound emissions by pyrolysis or other chemical processes, leaching caused by rain, removal of small particles by wind and incomplete recovering of the pile during removal. In Table 3 are summarised the experimental and calculated coefficients of losses obtained in the different tests on a yearly basis. These coefficients are calculated by difference between initial and final data kcal kgy1 and kg.. From the results showed in Table 3 it can be seen that the covering with fly ashwater slurry was the best method of protection, followed by the wind screen method. The coefficients of losses are low, paying attention to the fact that coal used to build the piles was considered highly dangerous. This is evident taking into account the high losses produced in the reference pile. The periodical compaction has shown to be very efficient in pile B and in pile C the coefficients did not indicate the excellent behaviour of low angle slope, because, only one slope had a low angle. In pile B the determination of calorific value showed problems in the final sampling the higher calorific value of the final sample was higher than that of the initial sample.. Therefore, no value of calorific losses can be given. This is probably the first time that experimental coefficients of total losses are found in piles of this size and weight at different conditions, all related to the prevention of spontaneous heating. Coefficients calculated by Infrared Thermography are of the order of the experimentally determined coefficients, showing an acceptable coincidence taking in to account the difficulty of these experiments. 4.2. Technical and economical ealuation of the protection methods used An economic assessment of efficiency and costs of the protection systems of protection used has been carried out to explore the possibilities of their application to large coal piles. The wind screen is the most expensive method of protection 79.5 pts tons coaly1 . using a period of 10 years of depreciation of the iron structure and 2 years

Table 3 Coefficients of losses in the experimental piles on a yearly basis Coefficient of Losses %. Pile A Total Weight Calorific value Calorific value by infrared thermography 19.5 12.5 7.6 9.5 B 4.5 7.1 4.0 C 18.5 4.8 14.2 15.7 PBV 6.1 0.9 4.8 2.6 PCB 3.1 1.6 0.6

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for the wood to calculate these costs. With variations of aerodynamic design of the barrier and using other type of materials, lower costs could possibly be achieved. Applications of wind screens to large piles could have negative economical effects because very expensive barriers would be necessary, especially because of increased height. Planting of fast growing tree barriers on the ground level or on artificial hills of compacted earth could be acceptable cheap options to substitute the wind screens, especially when piles are stored in a certain pattern e.g., the homogenisation piles.. Pile C showed high coefficients of losses 18.5%. which are not acceptable from economical and technical point of view, although the costs of application are very low 5.7 pts tons coaly1 .. For practical applications, slopes of low angle are very efficient but it would be necessary to pile coal in the form of turtle shell low slopes all around.. This measure would increase the storage area and also the cost of compaction. The periodical compaction and the use of a fly ash layer for covering have comparable costs 46.9 and 46 pts tons coaly1 , respectively., but the second shows coefficients of losses much lower than the first. Moreover, the scale up and other characteristics are favourable factors to use fly ash, especially in slopes of piles with long periods of storage. From practical experience with experimental and large piles in the previous project, it can be deduced that a good compaction of the coal during the formation of the pile - 10% of porosity. is a guarantee to keep low losses also when very reactive coals are piled. Taking into account the combination of cost and efficiency covering with fly ash shows to be the most favourable protection method of those investigated.

5. Conclusions The methods of protection applied to experimental piles between 2000 and 3000 tons of weight. built with a coal considered highly dangerous have shown to be very efficient. The total losses in pile A were very high 19.5%. probably caused by the high angle ) 458. of the slopes. The use of a low angle slope in pile C was very effective, although the total losses in this pile were very high due to the rest of high angle slopes. The periodic compaction of the coal pile has been shown to be highly effective in the reduction of losses from 19.5% to 7.1%. and the application costs are nearly half of those of the wind screens. The pile covered with a wet layer of fly ash from the same thermal power station has shown to be the most efficient measure having the lowest coefficient of total losses 3%. together with a moderate application cost of 46 pts tons coaly1 0.28 ECU tons coaly1 .. Wind screen pile with a coefficient of total losses about 6% and 80 pts tons coaly1 0.48 ECU tons coaly1 . is the second option with respect to efficiency. Wind tunnel tests have contributed to improve the focusing of the protection methods, opening a broad perspective for wind screens or comparable methods of protection. and their possible utilisation in the future. The coefficient of total losses per year is a very important economic figure and a method for its direct determination has been developed here. Infrared thermography has


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shown to be very efficient in hot spots detection in coal piles. The coefficients of losses calculated with this technique are limited to calorific value and they are of the same order as those experimentally obtained.

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