In January 2019, a facility in Indiana reported an aluminum fire. The company produces aluminum alloys for the auto industry. The fire resulted from highly combustible aluminum dust that had accumulated in the building.
The facility had a sprinkler system that certainly helped keep the fire from becoming an explosion. Fortunately, all the employees escaped without injury. Every facility that handles combustible material can take some advice from this incident.
What Caused the Accident?
Aluminum dust has a high Kst value, meaning that it can cause a very strong explosion. Because of how destructive an aluminum fire can be, take precautions to control and remove aluminum dust.
This facility has a dust collector. But aluminum dust had still accumulated around the building, especially on overhead beams. During routine cleanings, one can miss dust from flat surfaces in high places that accumulate it.
In the Indiana facility, they could not determine where the dust found an ignition source. First, it spread from an area near a furnace, igniting combustible aluminum dust that had accumulated in the area. Then the aluminum fire continued to spread by igniting dust piled up on the ceiling beams.
Their sprinkler system did activate. As a result, this probably prevented a dangerous explosion by keeping the dust from forming an airborne cloud. However, the fire burning on the overhead beams was above the sprinkler system.
From the overhead beams, the aluminum fire was able to spread and reached the dust collector. This caught on fire and burned until the fire department could extinguish it.
Recommendations for Prevention of an Aluminum Fire
Like many combustible dust incidents, this aluminum fire resulted from poor housekeeping. Accumulated dust in a facility can find an ignition source from a spark, faulty wiring, or machines. With a high Kst dust like aluminum, the dust can certainly cause an explosion.
The explosion can cause disturbed layers of dust to become airborne. Consequently, this leads to secondary explosions which can be devastating. However, in this aluminum fire, the dust on the beams did not get a chance to turn into a dust cloud.
This aluminum dust did burn and continue to spread the fire throughout the building and into the dust collector. Fortunately, the collector was located outside the building. With highly combustible dust, it’s almost always the recommendation to locate the collector outside. If an explosion does happen in the dust collector, it will vent away from the building and people inside.
Dust with a high Kst value like aluminum requires a dust collection system with fire and explosion prevention. This company had a sprinkler system in the building. But even after the sprinkler system triggered, nothing stopped the fire from entering the dust collector. Since an explosion wasn’t reported, the collector probably had explosion vent panels or some other safety features.
The most basic recommendation to prevent an aluminum fire, or any other dust fire, is good housekeeping. This means making sure there is no dust buildup around the building. So check and remove any dust from high surfaces like beams.
A dust collection system prevents a buildup of dust in the facility by capturing and removing it. This company had a dust collector, but it clearly could not handle all the dust being produced. An experienced dust collection system designer will make sure your system can capture all the dust your processes create.