The flammability of metallic materials in normal and reduced gravity

Lynn, David Benjamin (2011) The flammability of metallic materials in normal and reduced gravity. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Metallic materials exposed to oxygen-enriched atmospheres – as commonly used in the medical, aerospace, aviation and numerous chemical processing industries – represent a significant fire hazard which must be addressed during design, maintenance and operation. Hence, accurate knowledge of metallic materials flammability is required. Reduced gravity (i.e. space-based) operations present additional unique concerns, where the absence of gravity must also be taken into account. The flammability of metallic materials has historically been quantified using three standardised test methods developed by NASA, ASTM and ISO. These tests typically involve the forceful (promoted) ignition of a test sample (typically a 3.2 mm diameter cylindrical rod) in pressurised oxygen. A test sample is defined as flammable when it undergoes burning that is independent of the ignition process utilised. In the standardised tests, this is indicated by the propagation of burning further than a defined amount, or „burn criterion.. The burn criterion in use at the onset of this project was arbitrarily selected, and did not accurately reflect the length a sample must burn in order to be burning independent of the ignition event and, in some cases, required complete consumption of the test sample for a metallic material to be considered flammable. It has been demonstrated that a) a metallic material.s propensity to support burning is altered by any increase in test sample temperature greater than ~250-300 oC and b) promoted ignition causes an increase in temperature of the test sample in the region closest to the igniter, a region referred to as the Heat Affected Zone (HAZ). If a test sample continues to burn past the HAZ (where the HAZ is defined as the region of the test sample above the igniter that undergoes an increase in temperature of greater than or equal to 250 oC by the end of the ignition event), it is burning independent of the igniter, and should be considered flammable. The extent of the HAZ, therefore, can be used to justify the selection of the burn criterion. A two dimensional mathematical model was developed in order to predict the extent of the HAZ created in a standard test sample by a typical igniter. The model was validated against previous theoretical and experimental work performed in collaboration with NASA, and then used to predict the extent of the HAZ for different metallic materials in several configurations. The extent of HAZ predicted varied significantly, ranging from ~2-27 mm depending on the test sample thermal properties and test conditions (i.e. pressure). The magnitude of the HAZ was found to increase with increasing thermal diffusivity, and decreasing pressure (due to slower ignition times). Based upon the findings of this work, a new burn criterion requiring 30 mm of the test sample to be consumed (from the top of the ignition promoter) was recommended and validated. This new burn criterion was subsequently included in the latest revision of the ASTM G124 and NASA 6001B international test standards that are used to evaluate metallic material flammability in oxygen. These revisions also have the added benefit of enabling the conduct of reduced gravity metallic material flammability testing in strict accordance with the ASTM G124 standard, allowing measurement and comparison of the relative flammability (i.e. Lowest Burn Pressure (LBP), Highest No-Burn Pressure (HNBP) and average Regression Rate of the Melting Interface(RRMI)) of metallic materials in normal and reduced gravity, as well as determination of the applicability of normal gravity test results to reduced gravity use environments. This is important, as currently most space-based applications will typically use normal gravity information in order to qualify systems and/or components for reduced gravity use. This is shown here to be non-conservative for metallic materials which are more flammable in reduced gravity. The flammability of two metallic materials, Inconel® 718 and 316 stainless steel (both commonly used to manufacture components for oxygen service in both terrestrial and space-based systems) was evaluated in normal and reduced gravity using the new ASTM G124-10 test standard. This allowed direct comparison of the flammability of the two metallic materials in normal gravity and reduced gravity respectively. The results of this work clearly show, for the first time, that metallic materials are more flammable in reduced gravity than in normal gravity when testing is conducted as described in the ASTM G124-10 test standard. This was shown to be the case in terms of both higher regression rates (i.e. faster consumption of the test sample – fuel), and burning at lower pressures in reduced gravity. Specifically, it was found that the LBP for 3.2 mm diameter Inconel® 718 and 316 stainless steel test samples decreased by 50% from 3.45 MPa (500 psia) in normal gravity to 1.72 MPa (250 psia) in reduced gravity for the Inconel® 718, and 25% from 3.45 MPa (500 psia) in normal gravity to 2.76 MPa (400 psia) in reduced gravity for the 316 stainless steel. The average RRMI increased by factors of 2.2 (27.2 mm/s in 2.24 MPa (325 psia) oxygen in reduced gravity compared to 12.8 mm/s in 4.48 MPa (650 psia) oxygen in normal gravity) for the Inconel® 718 and 1.6 (15.0 mm/s in 2.76 MPa (400 psia) oxygen in reduced gravity compared to 9.5 mm/s in 5.17 MPa (750 psia) oxygen in normal gravity) for the 316 stainless steel. Reasons for the increased flammability of metallic materials in reduced gravity compared to normal gravity are discussed, based upon the observations made during reduced gravity testing and previous work. Finally, the implications (for fire safety and engineering applications) of these results are presented and discussed, in particular, examining methods for mitigating the risk of a fire in reduced gravity.

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ID Code: 46700
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Steinberg, Theodore & Dekkers, Wim
Additional Information: Recipient of 2011 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award
Keywords: burn criterion, heat affected zone, igniter effects, low gravity, metals combustion, metals flammability, metallic material, oxygen, oxygen-enriched, oxygen systems, promoted combustion, promoted ignition, reduced gravity, ODTA
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > Schools > School of Engineering Systems
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 28 Oct 2011 03:48
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2013 01:34

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