Metal Dust Explosion Protection for Safety Managers
Metal dust explosions are different from typical combustible dust explosions and can be more difficult to control. The flame temperature of some metal dusts can exceed 3,300°C which can limit the possible mitigation strategies. The flame speed and combustible characteristics (Pmax and Kst) can also be much higher for metal dusts compared to organic materials. See the Pmax and KSt values of metal dust, offered by NFPA 68.
Metal Dusts Properties
|Pmax (bar)||KSt (bar-m/sec)|
Metal Dusts Hazards
The finest metal powders are referred to as ultrafine metal powders, which can be prone to spontaneous ignition when exposed to air due to their extremely small particle size and surface area.
Metal dust deflagrations are often associated with more severe consequences in terms of human loss and financial impact. Aluminium dust deflagrations, especially, produce high temperatures and elevated explosion pressures which can cause severe burns and heavy damage. Metal dusts can also react with water to produce hydrogen and create a very reactive hybrid gas-dust mixture.
Dust explosion hazards must be assessed and controlled to protect people, processes, and operations. Because of the greater risks and the growing number of incidents, standards are becoming more stringent for plants handling metal dusts. In the United States, dust explosion prevention and protection are addressed in a few of the NPFA Standards:
- NFPA 68 “Standard on Explosion Protection by Deflagration Venting”
- NFPA 69 “Standard on Explosion Prevention Systems”
- NFPA 484 “Standard for Combustible Metals”
Metal processing facilities generate metal dust during a wide range of operations including cutting, welding, milling, and grinding. Hazards in these process areas should be addressed through a dust hazard analysis.
After identifying the hazard, having the specific dust tested, is critical to understanding the risk of handling the metal material. Both prevention and mitigation methods may be needed to provide safeguards to manage the metal dust hazard. Common mitigation methods for metal dust deflagrations are venting, suppression, and isolation.
Metal Properties – Key Temperatures
|Material||Melting Point (°C)||Boiling Point (°C)||Solid Metal Ignition (°C)||Max. Adiabatic Flame
Temperature Melting Point (°C)
Explosion venting is an effective and simple method to mitigate a dust explosion. Venting enables pressure that has developed during a deflagration to be released safely, which in effect prevents the process enclosure from rupturing.
Explosion venting for metal dust applications offer several features:
- A low static burst pressure allows the vent to open in the earliest stages of a deflagration to limit pressure generation and exhaust the flame
- The strong design prevents fragmentation during the venting process
- Domed and composite explosion vents provide a reliable solution for different types of process equipment
Large scale testing under realistic deflagration conditions shows venting is a reliable solution.
Explosion suppression helps control deflagrations, by absorbing the energy created during the combustion reaction. Explosion suppression systems include a pressure sensor, a control panel, and a high rate discharge (HRD) suppressor. When pressure waves created by a deflagration are detected, the suppressant discharge is initiated to extinguish the fireball. The temperature of the combustible dust is reduced.
Explosion isolation is used to prevent flame and/or pressure from propagating from one piece of equipment to other parts of the process. Isolation is difficult to achieve when explosion pressure and flame speed are high, which is common in metal dusts. Isolation can be accomplished with mechanical systems that interrupt or block the passage of flame, such as with the Interceptor®-FV®, and also with suppression methods that extinguish the flame and prevent ignition of the unburned fuel. Isolation system placement is essential to success; equipment needs to be in the correct proximity to the initial deflagration to be effective.
Expert Understanding of Dust Explosibility
Understanding dust explosibility is vital to properly characterize the metal dust risk and to offer adequate explosion protection solutions. The type of metal, particle size and shape, and the degree of oxidation are characteristics that affect the risk a plant or process is undertaking. CV Technology has managed industrial processes handling metal dusts and has a total solution against fires and explosions, including venting, suppressing, and isolation. CV Technology is a proven leader, equipped to help customers protect their people and process from catastrophic losses.