Understanding and Predicting Autoignition Temperatures (AIT) for Pure Compounds
A Project Sponsored by DIPPR
In 2010, an accidental explosion claimed the lives of 7 workers at an oil refinery near Seattle Washington. A rupture in a vessel released flammable chemicals that spontaneously combusted upon release. This tragic accident is just one example of the phenomenon we study to help prevent similar accidents.
We study autoignition; also called spontaneous combustion: which is when something flammable will ignite without any spark or flame. Truthfully, autoignition is not well studied or understood. Because of this, it is difficult to predict and varies greatly depending on the fuel and conditions of combustion. For example, some estimates for the minimum temperature at which autoignition occurs (the autognition temperature) can be off by hundreds of degrees Celsius.
Many chemical companies fund this research in the interest of safety for their processes. Our goal is to understand the phenomena behind spontaneous combustion to prevent disasters like the one in Washington State.
To do this we are currently performing experiments and examining the leading methods for predicting these phenomena. From our research, we intend to produce an improved method for predicting autoigntiion temperatures. This will allow industrial professionals to prevent disasters before they happen.