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Flammable gas mixing and detection in HVAC
ducts Enter your email
Published: 11 April, 2008

Arrangements for providing and siting gas detectors for open areas
and gas turbine enclosures (1) are generally considered to be
reasonably well understood. But there is little information on the
provision and siting of gas detection systems for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air Company Profiles
conditioning) ducts supplying air to accommodation modules, temporary refuges or process
areas, writes Kevin ODonnell, Offshore Safety Division, Health and Safety Executive. Advancing
That there is little information on siting of gas detection for HVAC was highlighted by an incident in late rescue
November 2004 on an offshore platform in the North Sea. There was a delay in confirmed detection of technology
gas and subsequent shutdown of HVAC systems, despite gas being ingested in the HVAC intakes.
Following this incident the Health and Safety Executives Offshore Safety Division funded research to The specialist supplier of quality PPE and Rescue
examine flammable gas releases around and into HVAC ducts. In particular the circumstances that Equipment to Emergency Services.
might lead to non-uniform distributions of gas around and inside HVAC duct inlets were examined, and
the suggestions regarding the gas detection arrangements in place have been considered.

This article is a brief summary of a full research project (2,3) and has highlighted some issues for this
topic, as well as reminding us of some points that may have been overlooked with time.
Revolutionizing fire fighting foam technology
Gas flow and mixing in a duct
A typical offshore HVAC duct will generally produce a Reynolds number in the range from 105 to 106, The one-stop resource for fire fighting foam
and this will ensure fully turbulent flow some distance downstream from the entrance to a duct. concentrates and custom-designed foam suppression
However, any gas flow outside the duct and in the vicinity of the entrance may well be non- systems hardware.
homogeneous. It is important to know when gas can be considered to be well-mixed across a duct,
since this has implications for selection and siting of gas detectors. Normally, for flow in a duct, there The ultimate
will be a development region where the turbulent boundary layers grow and eventually merge, leading
to local equilibrium where the flow no longer changes. Typically this should occur around 25-40 ducts in innovation,
diameters from the inlet. quality and
service
The research into this subject reviewed the results of sampling experiments in exhaust duct stacks in
the nuclear industry where a passive tracer gas was released from a single point in a duct. This showed For 60 years Lehavot has been delivering the worlds
that even allowing for turbulence generated by bends, the distance before well-mixed conditions are most advanced fire detection and suppression
developed can be significant and will be comparable to the length of the development region for fully- automatic systems
developed turbulent flow.
In a series of experiments, concentration measurements were taken over the cross section of the duct Trust the
downstream from the release. To characterise the degree of mixing a parameter called the Coefficient best, let us
of Variation (COV) was introduced. This parameter is defined as the sample standard deviation divided
be your foam
by the sample mean, for all points sampled at a cross-section. It can be used to quantify the uniformity
of mixing in a duct, and can be readily computed from CFD results. solution
Based on this principle the American standard ANSI/HPS N13.1-1999 permits single point sampling of AUXQUIMIA is a Spanish company whose main activity
gaseous contaminants in a duct, provided the COV for both velocity and concentration of a tracer gas
is the design, manufacture and commercialization of
are less than 0.2 over the central two-thirds of the duct. firefighting foam concentrates.
The literature reviewed for this work reports on experiments examining the COV and its dependence on
turbulence intensity, and obstructions or mixing elements within ducts. The performance of static mixing
elements was very variable but the 0.2 COV criterion was met for the examples tested within a distance Williams Fire & Hazard Control
of nine duct diameters downstream. The most effective mixing elements were able to meet the criterion offers a full line of specialized fire
within three duct diameters of the mixing element. response equipment for oil and
gas platforms
The effect of grilles on the turbulence in a duct is relatively well understood, and either suppresses or
enhances turbulence depending on the grille geometry. A fine mesh will tend to suppress turbulence, From storage tanks and pipeline emergencies to
and any mesh-induced turbulence will decay quickly because of its small scale. A grid of relatively large offshore platforms and vessels at sea, Williams'
rods will enhance turbulence, but it was found that even if turbulence was significantly enhanced the response personnel and specialized equipment quickly
COV is likely to remain high for long distances downstream. address adverse fire emergencies.

For typical HVAC duct equipment such as louvres, grilles, and fire dampers, although these features Foam fights
generate turbulence and the flow may well be turbulent across the duct inlet, it would be wrong to
simply assume that mixing will be rapid and contaminants will be quickly dispersed to give well mixed fire
uniform conditions. Even with sharp edged duct entrances, it is concluded that up to 50 duct diameters Europes
may be needed to achieve uniform mixing of a passive tracer in a straight pipe. foremost fire
Having reviewed the literature the research proceeded to examine Computational Fluid Dynamics fighting foam manufacturer has been developing and
(CFD) modelling of some representative scenarios. producing foams since the 1920s.
CFD modelling of gas ingestion and
distribution inside HVAC ducts Optical flame and
A number of scenarios were modelled, but here well concentrate on one which draws upon some open path gas
elements of an incident on Brae Alpha in 2004. A high pressure gas riser failed, the failure location detectors
being at the top of the riser underneath the main body of the platform. The diagrams at Figure 1
illustrate the simplified representation used for the CFD modelling. The domain includes a large region Spectrex Inc. is a world
of atmosphere surrounding the platform, with a wind speed of 12.3 m/s, and a gas release rate of 2 kg/s leader in optical flame and combustible gas detection
modelled as a high pressure release using a pseudo-source approach in conjunction with empirical with over 30 years experience.
data. CFD simulations were undertaken using ANSYS CFX 10 software, in time-dependent mode.
The leader in truck-mounted hydraulic
Figure 2 illustrates one aspect of the simulations, an iso-surface of gas concentration at 10% LEL. platforms
Inside this volume the concentration will be greater than 10% LEL. The gas is shown as spreading Our mission is to
throughout and underneath the lower elements of the platform and is clearly illustrated being ingested provide the best and
into the smallest of the three HVAC inlets. It is not so clear in the diagram, but inside the very large the safest solution to
Hazardous HVAC inlet (approx. 6m x 4m) the gas distribution is far from uniform, as illustrated in Figure professionals that work
3. at height.

However, it is not just large ducts which can exhibit such non-uniformity in gas concentration. Figure 4 The
shows the gas distribution inside the smallest of the three ducts, with a 1.5 m square cross-section. The
gas concentration is again very non-uniform; the COV is 0.43 at 2 m inside the duct, and gas independent
concentration varies from approximately 3% LEL to well over 20% LEL at this location. Although the alternative
average gas concentration in this smaller duct is approximately 16 % LEL, it falls below 10% over a
Dafo Fomtec AB
significant part of the cross-section. Post-processing of these results shows that beam detectors located
is a privately owned company with head office in
2 m inside the duct and oriented across the width of the duct would indicate a gas concentration of
Stockholm Sweden and manufacturing in Helsingborg in
approximately 16% LEL per m which is comparable to the average concentration.
the south of Sweden.
Discussion
In the CFD simulations performed for this research, the distribution of gas at HVAC inlets is found to be If you want quality,
non-uniform. This is consistent with empirical data on unimpeded high pressure gas releases. Thus for you want Zico
a release of pure methane at a stagnation pressure of 100 bar from a hole of 12 mm diameter, the
concentration at approximately 10 m downstream from the release would be 100% LEL on the jet Since its inception
centreline but just 10% LEL at a radius of 1.9 m. This distance, over which the concentration varies by a Ziamatic Corp has
factor of ten, is broadly comparable to the dimensions of typical offshore HVAC inlets. If such a release provided the men and
were ingested into an HVAC inlet then significant non-uniformity in gas concentration could be expected women of the fire service with products designed to
outside and immediately inside the HVAC duct: large variations in gas concentration can be expected to make their jobs safer and easier.
be present over the cross-section of the modelled inlets, and within the HVAC ducts. This implies a
notable potential for gas releases to be missed by detection systems unless this non-uniformity in gas
concentration is anticipated in the selection and siting of gas detectors at HVAC inlets.
Latest issues
The CFD results also show that a variation in gas concentration over a duct cross-section only reduces
slowly with distance along a straight duct. These findings are consistent with theoretical considerations Industrial Fire Journal Q2 2017
for gas distribution in a high pressure jet or low pressure buoyant plume, and from the literature
covering the sampling of gas distributions in the exhaust ducts of nuclear stacks.

The literature highlights that purpose-designed mixing elements and bends in a duct can be effective in
creating well-mixed conditions but at the cost of increased pressure drop. It also points out that
relatively small-scale obstructions, such as louvres and fire dampers, are unlikely to significantly Latest issues
enhance mixing. This is borne out by CFD modelling of such obstructions in this study.
Fire and Rescue Q2 2017
The implications of the modelling work, substantiated by the literature, are that in the absence of
purpose-designed mixing elements or a series of bends upstream from gas detectors, no significant
benefit would be gained from siting detectors a significant distance downstream from an HVAC inlet.
Also, no significant benefit can be expected to be gained from siting detectors inside an HVAC duct
compared to locating them immediately outside the HVAC inlet.
Latest issues
Therefore based on the results of this work so far, the recommendations made in the report for
flammable gas detection strategies for offshore HVAC ducts are as follows: Fire Trade Asia and Middle East 2016
Detector alarm levels should be set as low as reasonably practical: 10% LEL or less.

Point catalytic, point infra-red, extended path point infra-red, cross-duct beam infra-red and aspirated
point detector systems all have the potential to be effective in detecting non-uniform distributions of
flammable gas in and around HVAC ducts, provided their sensitivity is sufficiently high (low detection
limit), and it is recognised that gas could be distributed non-uniformly. Latest issues
Extended path point infra-red detector systems currently appear to offer the greatest sensitivity for this Fire Trade Europe 2017
situation, but multiple detectors should be used and sited so as to anticipate non-uniform mixing.

Cross-duct beam infra-red, extended path or aspirated point detector systems should be based on two
approximately orthogonal beams or lines of aspirated point probes.

No significant benefit can be expected to be gained from siting detectors inside an HVAC duct
compared to locating them immediately outside the HVAC inlet.

In the absence of purpose-designed mixing elements or a series of bends upstream from gas
detectors no significant benefit is to be gained from siting detectors a significant distance downstream Calendar
from an HVAC inlet.
17 August, 2017, 9:00 - 18 August, 2017, 17:00
Mixing elements have the potential to reduce any non-uniformity in the distribution of gas in a duct but Nordic Fire & Safety Days
their effectiveness should be proven by physical tests. Now it should be noted that these
recommendations are based on a limited amount of work from CFD modelling and the published 22 August, 2017, 10:00 - 25 August, 2017
literature. CFD modelling has inherent uncertainties and it is recognised that the findings from the Disaster & Emergency Management Summit
literature are not based on offshore HVAC systems as such. However the CFD modelling demonstrates
that there is a possibility of significant non-uniformity in the distribution of gas inside and around an
HVAC inlet. 19 September, 2017, 9:00 - 21 September,
2017, 17:00
It is difficult to provide firm guidance on how many point or extended path detectors should be used Fire Protection and Safety in Tunnels
since this depends on the size and shape of a duct. However, it is recommended that there should be
good coverage of the cross-section of the duct. This can be achieved by two infra-red beams arranged 20 September, 2017, 9:00 - 21 September,
approximately orthogonally, either as open-path cross duct or extended path point infra-red, or lines of 2017
aspirated point probes. Emergency Services Show

For the time being it is recommended that the findings of this work should be taken into account by 27 September, 2017, 9:00 - 28 September,
those who have responsibility for HVAC system design, manufacture and maintenance, where 2017, 17:00
hazardous atmospheres are likely to be encountered. HSE are considering substantiating these results Flood Expo
through physical trials using real detectors.

References: 25 October, 2017, 9:00 - 26 October, 2017,


1. Guidance note PM 84: Control of safety risks at gas turbines used for power generation. HSE, 2000. 17:00
2. Assessment of gas detection strategies for offshore HVAC ducts based on CFD modelling. Health 17th International Water Mist Conference
and Safety Laboratory. Report RR602, http://www.hse.gov.uk/RESEARCH/rrpdf/rr602.pdf3.
Assessment of flammable gas ingestion and mixing in offshore HVAC ducts: Implications for gas
detection strategies. C J Lea, M Deevy and K ODonnell, HAZARDS XX, University of Manchester, April Most read articles
2008.
7 days 14 days 1 month
Caption:figure 2, Iso-surface of gas at 10 per cent LEL. 1. Managing the lithium (ion) battery fire risk
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