The rate-limiting mechanism for the heterogeneous burning of iron in normal gravity and reduced gravity

Ward, Nicholas Rhys (2007) The rate-limiting mechanism for the heterogeneous burning of iron in normal gravity and reduced gravity. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis presents a research project in the field of oxygen system fire safety relating to the heterogeneous burning of iron in normal gravity and reduced gravity. Fires involving metallic components in oxygen systems often occur, with devastating and costly results, motivating continued research to improve the safety of these devices through a better understanding of the burning phenomena. Metallic materials typically burn in the liquid phase, referred to as heterogeneous burning. A review of the literature indicates that there is a need to improve the overall understanding of heterogeneous burning and better understand the factors that influence metal flammability in normal gravity and reduced gravity. Melting rates for metals burning in reduced gravity have been shown to be higher than those observed under similar conditions in normal gravity, indicating that there is a need for further insight into heterogeneous burning, especially in regard to the rate-limiting mechanism. The objective of the current research is to determine the cause of the higher melting rates observed for metals burning in reduced gravity to (a) identify the rate-limiting mechanism during heterogeneous burning and thus contribute to an improved fundamental understanding of the system, and (b) contribute to improved oxygen system fire safety for both ground-based and space-based applications. In support of the work, a 2-s duration ground-based drop tower reduced-gravity facility was commissioned and a reduced-gravity metals combustion test system was designed, constructed, commissioned and utilised. These experimental systems were used to conduct tests involving burning 3.2-mm diameter cylindrical iron rods in high-pressure oxygen in normal gravity and reduced gravity. Experimental results demonstrate that at the onset of reduced gravity, the burning liquid droplet rapidly attains a spherical shape and engulfs the solid rod, and that this is associated with a rapid increase in the observed melting rate. This link between the geometry of the solid/liquid interface and melting rate during heterogeneous burning is of particular interest in the current research. Heat transfer analysis was performed and shows that a proportional relationship exists between the surface area of the solid/liquid interface and the observed melting rate. This is confirmed through detailed microanalysis of quenched samples that shows excellent agreement between the proportional change in interfacial surface area and the observed melting rate. Thus, it is concluded that the increased melting rates observed for metals burning in reduced gravity are due to altered interfacial geometry, which increases the contact area for heat transfer between the liquid and solid phases. This leads to the conclusion that heat transfer across the solid/liquid interface is the rate-limiting mechanism for melting and burning, limited by the interfacial surface area. This is a fundamental result that applies in normal gravity and reduced gravity and clarifies that oxygen availability, as postulated in the literature, is not rate limiting. It is also established that, except for geometric changes at the solid/liquid interface, the heterogeneous burning phenomenon is the same at each gravity level. A conceptual framework for understanding and discussing the many factors that influence heterogeneous burning is proposed, which is relevant to the study of burning metals and to oxygen system fire safety in both normal-gravity and reduced-gravity applications.

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ID Code: 16673
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Steinberg, Theodore & Bell, John
Additional Information: Recipient of 2007 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award
Keywords: metal combustion, microgravity, reduced gravity, normal gravity, oxygen, fire safety, metal flammability, burning iron, heterogeneous burning, cylindrical rod, heat transfer model, rate-limiting mechanism, rate-limiting step, solid/liquid interface, melting interface, regression rate of the melting interface, melting rate, surface tension, microanalysis, test methods, drop tower, ODTA
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > Schools > School of Engineering Systems
Department: Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Nicholas Rhys Ward
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:08
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2013 06:10

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