Nano Dust Brings Explosion Fears

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 @ 06:02 PM gHale

If manufacturers don’t stay on top of their game, dust in any industrial setting is a potential safety nightmare, but with expanded industrial-scale production of nanomaterials coming online, experts worry dust generated during processing of nanomaterials may explode more easily.

Nanomaterial dust could explode due to a spark with only 1/30th the energy needed to ignite sugar dust — the cause of the 2008 Portwentworth, GA, explosion that killed 13 people, injured 42 people and destroyed a factory.

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Dust explosions are among the earliest recorded causes of industrial accidents — dating back to a 1785 flour warehouse disaster — and are still a constant threat at facilities that process fine particles of various materials, said Dr. Paul Amyotte, P.Eng., and professor in the chemical engineering department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Despite significant research, there is still much for scientists to learn about the risks of dust explosions in industry, especially “nontraditional” dusts, and a constant threat exists. That’s why the researchers decided to probe the potential of explosion of three types of nontraditional dusts: Nanomaterials; flocculent (fibrous or fuzzy) materials used in various products, such as floor coverings; and hybrid mixtures of a dust and a flammable gas or vapor.

After reviewing results of studies, the researchers concluded the energy needed to ignite nanomaterials made of metals, such as aluminum, is less than 1 mJ, which is less than 1/30th the energy required to ignite sugar dust or less than 1/60th the energy required to set wheat dust aflame.

Flocking is a process that generates static electricity, which could set off an explosion of flocculent dust, they said. And the addition of a flammable gas or vapor to a dust as a hybrid mixture increases the chance that the dust will explode.

The researchers warn safety needs to be paramount to prevent these materials from exposure to sparks, collisions or friction, which could fuel an explosion.

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