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Liquid Nitrogen as a

Powerplant Fire Extinguishant


E U G E N E P. K L U E G
National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center
Federal Aviation Administration
Department of Transportation

Though liquid nitrogen may be a somewhat less efficient fire ex-


tinguishant than certain other agents, its presence in quantities suf-
ficient to inert aircraft fuel tanks may justify its use for protecting
aircraft powerplants. The author reports the results of preliminary
tests conducted by the FAA.

A Tmilitary
T H E present time, liquid nitrogen is being carried aboard several
aircraft for inerting fuel tanks, and it has recently been pro-
posed for inerting the fuel tanks on commercial transport aircraft. Be-
cause of the availability of large quantities for inerting, it has been further
proposed that a secondary use be made of the nitrogen for extinguishing
powerplant fires. Like carbon dioxide, the effectiveness of liquid nitrogen
in extinguishing fires is dependent upon cooling to reduce the temperature
of the combustible below its ignition temperature, or the point at which it
vaporizes, and upon oxygen dilution to the level that will no longer support
combustion. A comparison of the physical properties of liquid nitrogen,
carbon dioxide, and the two most common halogenated fire extinguishing
agents (dibromodifluoromethane and bromotrifluoromethane) currently in
use on United States military and commercial aircraft is made in Table 1.

NITROGEN VERSUS OTHER AGENTS


Since nitrogen at atmospheric pressure has a lower boiling point than
the other three agents and a higher heat of vaporization than the two
halogenated agents, the amount of cooling during a liquid nitrogen dis-
charge can be expected to be significantly greater when compared on a
weight basis. Likewise, since the expansion ratio of nitrogen when con-
verted from a liquid to a gas is considerably higher than the other three
agents, nitrogen produces the greatest amount of oxygen dilution. The

NOTE: The author presented this paper at the 73rd Annual Meeting of the National
Fire Protection Association in New York City on May 13, 1969.
197
198 Fire Technology
overall effectiveness of liquid nitrogen as a fire extinguishing agent cannot
be expected to be as great as the highly effective halogenated agents, how-
ever, for these agents do not depend primarily on cooling and oxygen dilu-
tion, b u t on a chemical interference with the combustion process. This
lower effectiveness of nitrogen does not eliminate it from consideration as
a fire extinguishing agent on aircraft where large quantities can be made
available from the supply of liquid nitrogen stored for inerting fuel tanks.
A determination of just how large a quantity would be required for
extinguishment could not be made because of a lack of directly applicable
technical information. Work done by the U.S. Bureau of Mines 1 has shown
that diluting a mixture of JP-4 fuel vapor in air with gaseous nitrogen so
that the volumetric oxygen concentration is 12 per cent or less produces a
nonflammable mixture. This relationship is shown in Figure 1 for sea
level temperature and pressure. Inerting the mixture by reducing the
oxygen concentration to 11 per cent would require approximately 45 per
cent, by volume, of gaseous nitrogen added to a stoichiometric fuel-air
composkion. A comparison of this inerting data with results of an investi-
gation into the inhibition of diffusion flames by the National Bureau of
Standards 2 shows that, for most combustibles, the amount of nitrogen re-
quired to extinguish a flame is generally substantially lower, and the result-
ing oxygen concentration higher, than the requirements for inerting. Con-
sidering this difference in the requirements for inerting and extinguishment
together with the effects of cooling, it was theorized that liquid nitr: gen
could extinguish JP-4 jet fuel fires b y lowering the volumetric oxygen con-
centration from 21 per cent in air to some value above 11 per cent. In
order to demonstrate this and to provide design criteria for an aircraft
powerp|ant fire extinguishing system that would utilize a nitrogen supply
common to other aircraft systems, an investigation was initiated recently
by the Federal Aviation Administration. The work described here sum-
marizes the findings to date resulting from this effort and discusses current
and future areas of investigation.
DISCUSSION
The effectiveness of liquid nitrogen as a fire extinguishing agent is being
investigated at the Federal Aviation Administration's test facilities near
TABLE 1. Physical Properties of Several Extinguishants
Physical property LN2 C02 CBrF:~ CBr~.F~.

Boiling p o i n t a t 1 a t m (o F) --320 -109 -72 76


H e a t of v a p o r i z a t i o n (Btu/lb) 85 113 48 53
Volume of 1 lb of gas a t 70 ~ F a n d
1 a r m (cuft) 14 9 3 3
Gas to liquid volume ratio, gas 696:1 403:1 254:1 356:1
a t 70 ~ F a n d 1 arm, liquid a t (~ F) b.p. 70 70 76
LN2 = Liquid n i t r o g e n
CO2 = C a r b o n dioxide
CBrF:~ = Bromotrifluoromethane
CBr2F~ = Dibromodifluoromethane
Liquid Nitrogen 199
Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tests are being conducted in a wind tunnel
that simulates the subsonic, low altitude flight conditions around an in-
strumented JT-12 turbojet engine and nacelle.

20

18 - ~ "-- Ls

OXYGEN, " , ~---_ao


% VOLUME14

12 :
~ ~N2~ ADDE n

10 _ _ ~ ~ _ Vo~u~

0 2 4 6 8 I0
J P-4 FUEL VAPOR, %VOLUME
Figure 1. Producing nonflammable mixtures by inerting with gaseous nitrogen.

A liquid nitrogen discharge system was developed and used to ex-


tinguish test fires in the compressor and accessory compartment of a No. 2
aft pod, side-mounted Jet Star powerplant nacelle. The storage container
and distribution system are illustrated in Figure 2. Liquid nitrogen was
stored in a 300-1b capacity cryogenic container, routed by operating control
and throttling valves through 22 ft of l-in. diameter tubing, and discharged
into the powerplant nacelle through four fog nozzles. No a t t e m p t was
made to optimize the type of discharge and the distribution within the
nacelle. The nitrogen was stored as a saturated liquid at pressures ranging
from 100 to 140 psig.
Nearly all of the test fires to date resulted from spray releasing and
spark igniting JP-4 jet fuel at a rate of 0.1 gpm. The test fires were located
in a somewhat remote area relative to the locations of the fog nozzles to
prevent localized high concentrations of nitrogen in the area of the fires.
The test procedures consisted of retarding the JT-12 turbojet engine to
cutoff (a normal procedure in a fire emergency) 5 sec after starting the test
fire. The nitrogen discharge into the nacelle was initiated approximately
10 sec after retarding the engine and continued for periods ranging from
3 to 16 sec. The rate at which nitrogen was discharged was varied from
0.2 to 3.2 lbs/sec. The minimum quantities and discharge rates required
to extinguish the test fires were determined for liquid nitrogen as a function
200 Fire Technology
WITHDRAWAL

LN z CONTAI NER

JT-12 ENGINE NACELLE


Figure 2. Storage and distribution for powerplant fire extinguishing systems.
of nacelle ventilation. Nacelle ventilation resulted from the compressor
bleed air entering the nacelle through a series of holes around the circum-
refence of the engine compressor case and through several small, ram air
blast tubes. This airflow was controlled over the range from 0.5 to 3.0
lbs/sec. The minimum nitrogen requirements for extinguishment are
shown in Table 2 for low and high airflows. The effective q u a n t i t y of
nitrogen is the a m o u n t expended by the time the fire was extinguished.
The total q u a n t i t y is the total a m o u n t of nitrogen actually discharged into
the nacelle.
The effectiveness of liquid nitrogen appeared to be primarily a function
of the rate at which it was applied to the fire, not of the discharge time or
total quantity utilized. The fire was normally extinguished within 2 to
3 sec after initiating the liquid nitrogen discharge.
A cooling effect was apparent during the nitrogen discharges. Ambient
temperatures at a location remote to the fire and not in line with the dis-
charge nozzles were between 300 ~ F and 400 ~ F at the time the nitrogen
discharge was initiated. After releasing nitrogen for 7 sec at a rate of 1

TABLE 2. Minimum Requirements for Extinguishment

Liquid nitrogen Bromotrifluoromethane


Parameter system system

Compartment airflow (lbs/sec) 0.5


Total quantity (lbs) 4.5
Effective quantity (lbs) 1.6
Discharge rate (lbs/sec) 0.6
Extinguishing time (sec) 2.6
Compartment ah'flow (lbs/sec) 2.8 2.7
Total quantity (lbs) 10.5 1.0
Effective quantity (lbs) 4.1 <1.0
Discharge rate (lbs/sec) 1.1 7.0
Extinguishing time (sec) 3.9 2.1
Liquid Nitrogen 201
lb/sec, the temperatures were lowered to between 100 ~ F and 150 ~ F. This
cooling effect, although not yet fully investigated, is considered to be bene-
ficial in decreasing the probability of reignition by cooling potential hot
surface ignition sources. This, together with a probable excess in the
amount of liquid nitrogen available, could provide a greater degree of pro-
tection than conventional powerplant fire extinguishing systems.
R e s e t s of two comparative tests conducted to determine the relative
effectiveness of liquid nitrogen to the fire extinguishing agent currently
being used on the majority of commercial transport aircraft (bromotri-
fluoromethane) are also shown in Table 2. One test involved a 1.0-1b dis-
charge of bromotrifluoromethane under 500 psig pressure through the
standard J e t Star distribution system. During the second test, 1.0 lb of
bromotrifluoromethane was discharged from the standard pressurized con-
tainer through the liquid nitrogen distribution system. In both cases, the
fires were extinguished. Although no a t t e m p t was made to determine the
minimum required quantity of bromotrifluoromethane, it is estimated on
the basis of prior experience with extinguishing fires in the test installation
that, on the basis of weight, approximately three to four times more liquid
nitrogen is required as compared to bromotrifluoromethane.
The liquid nitrogen requirements for extinguishment as a function of the
amount of nacelle air flow are shown in Figure 3. Assuming complete
mixing, theoretical 5, 10, and 15 per cent volumetric oxygen concentrations

3
REGION FOR NOI~ 1/15 r .,,
EXTINGUISHMEN1 / ,,/

/ j..
!" i . : " :%:! ,,
/
/
/ i. : . :i ~..... :"!::~:::/ /
2 - ' : ::. : : .... ::: : - , / /10 %
I :.~::;~EGtbNi
:~:~ /
AIRFLOW, / / :..........................

/ / i:::.:':

'II}/"
9 .'" :"'"''"''" ......

; : :: ::;::::::~ii~:~i:;:~i::~!~i:-i:!;i:::;;::

,
./:;5 !.:;i::.~:;.~:!!i:i:!i!ii:i:!!:i:ii!i::i#!iii!iii:iii:ii:i!:i!:::
i:i~!::i!:::;~:~::ii:::~i!::i~i~i:;~::~
~i~:;::i:: ::!!:.:i:....9 /.- -
/ l l~" ": .:~i:i:i~;i~:~i:i~i:!:::~;i~i~::~i~i:i:.~::iii::::i!::::ii::. .
i: ': ~~::;:::~::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: 1
/ ~ ....~:::~:::~I~:~::I~::~::!~:::~L-~IMEJO~= 5
l/ i
j/ ...- =I
0 1 2 3
LN 2 D I S C H A R G E RATE, I b / s e c
Figure 3. The effect o[ airflow on liquid nitrogen requirements for extinguishment.
202 Fire Technology
are also shown in this figure for a time of 2 sec after initiation of nitrogen
discharge. The lower of the two lines shown for each percentage represents
the concentrations disregarding the oxygen consumption by the fire, and
the upper line represents the oxygen concentration with complete com-
bustion of the jet fuel. The results show that a dilution of the oxygen con-
centration to approximately 10 per cent was required at the low air flow,
while at the high air flow, the fires were extinguished with oxygen concen-
trations theoretically remaining well above 15 per cent. Further testing is
expected to better define this relationship.
Tests at the low air flows were conducted with nitrogen being throttled
to reduce the discharge rate. This resulted in large quantities of the
nitrogen being converted to a gas in the discharge line. It is theorized that
the required discharge rates would be somewhat lower if the nitrogen in
the line were maintained in the liquid state. The test fires at the higher air
flows are considered to have been burning lean, and it is expected that,
when the fuel is released at higher rates, the required nitrogen discharge
rates will increase producing lower oxygen concentrations.
Other items under investigation or under consideration for future
studies include the effects of line length and diameter, the type of discharge
nozzle, the amount of cooling and oxygen dilution, the effect of storage
pressure, the amount and effects of thermal shock to engine components,
and means of evaluating new powerplant installations that utilize liquid
nitrogen for extinguishing engine fires.

SUMMARY
Preliminary test results indicate that liquid nitrogen is effective in ex-
tinguishing fires in aircraft powerplant compartments; that the quantity of
liquid nitrogen expected to be available from a fuel tank inerting system
would be sufficient to extinguish this type of fire; and that, on aircraft
where a large quantity of liquid nitrogen is available, a liquid nitrogen fire
extinguishing system could provide greater in-flight powerplant fire pro-
tection than the limited quantity of agent available in a conventional high
rate of discharge system

REFERENCES
I Jones, G. W., Zabetakis, M. G. Scott, G. S., and Furno, A. L., "Research on the
Flammability Characteristics of Aircraft Fuels," W A D C Technical Report 52-35,
Supplement 1, January 1954.
2 Creitz, E. C., "Inhibition of Diffusion Flames by Methyl Bromide and Trifluo-
romethyl bromide Applied to the Fuel and Oxygen Sides of the Reaction Zone,"
Journal of Research (National Bureau of Standards), A. Physics and Chemistry, Vol.
65A, No. 4, July-August 1961.

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