Burning gas cylinders no longer face Hobson's choice between becoming a giant flame thrower or a bomb

August 25, 1999

Until now gas cylinders caught in large fires have faced a rather stark choice. Either they use pressure sensitive valves to vent of their gas before it gets too hot - which can often result in the venting gas igniting in a flame-thrower affect - or if this fails they can just wait until they are so hot that they explode. Sometimes they have no choice at all, exploding because the temperature has risen so steeply that there has not been time to vent all the gas. Now new technology developed by the University of Warwick and Coventry based company Carboline Nullifire has found a way of protecting gas cylinders from both those fates.

In attempting to devise a container or "Gas-Safe" to protect gas cylinders the researchers had to resolve a catch 22 situation - cylinders have to be kept insulated and cool during a fire, but should not be allowed to get so cold (from gas evaporation) during normal operation that they became inoperative. The "Gas-Safe" thus incorporates air vents in its structure to allow normal temperature air to circulate around the cylinder.

Of course in normal circumstances these air vents would breach and invalidate the cover devised to protect the cylinder against fire or heat. However the research staff in the Engineering and Chemistry Departments at the University of Warwick worked with Nullifire staff through innovatory Engineering Doctorate and the Teaching Company programs have solved these problems. First an intumescent material was developed that could resist the temperature and, by swelling up in response to the severe heat, seal the holes. Second a lower temperature insulator was developed to ensure temperatures in the bottle were kept below 60 degree C.

The new development has been tested in a number of intense fires and can withstand up to 1000 degree C fires for over 30 minutes giving fire fighters much more time to deal with fires involving gas cylinders. The new development also has two other unforeseen spin offs in that it makes the gas cylinders much more aesthetically pleasing and can also be used to secure gas cylinders against theft.

University of Warwick

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