Fire Sprinkler

New Fire Protection Regulations for Energy Storage

litium ion battery energy storage.jpg

Laptops are exploding.  Phones are catching fire in pockets.  Lithium-ion batteries are more dangerous than anyone realized.  So, imagine the risk involved with an energy storage building filled with lithium-ion batteries.

 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is working on an update for NFPA 855 - the Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems.  The draft is available for public comment and is expected to be completed in 2020.

Related:  FAQ - Battery Energy Storage Facilities + Their Fire Hazards

Nationally, the NFPA 855 update will create a stricter requirement for fire protection of energy storage.  It might also add a cap on size for energy storage in enclosed spaces.  The committee dedicated to this project will "document fire prevention, fire protection, design, construction, installation, commissioning, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of stationary, mobile, and temporary energy storage systems," according to Energy Storage Systems Staff Liaison Brian J. O'Connor.  

 

The requirements will be more stringent than the current version.

Related:  3 Reasons to Outsource Your Fire Protection Specification Writing

Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) published the first safety standards in 2014, UL 9540.  UL 9540 is the backbone of NFPA and other organization's regulations for energy storage.

According to UtilityDive, "some stakeholders are already taking guidance from NFPA's developing standards.  While the standards are still in draft form, '2020 may be the landing spot for projects that are just starting development today,' said Davion Hill, Energy Storage Leader for the America's.



Fire Protection Products that Shouldn't Exist

fire protection products that shouldn't exist.jpg

Sometimes you run across a product and think... that shouldn't exist.

This comes to mind.

However, the Flowbee is harmless.  A product that is fire protection related, but doesn't save lives is a whole other story.  

Below are three products that our F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems' employees have run across and instantly thought - that spells disaster.

1.  Fire sprinkler attached to a hose.

The SHS president, Daryl Bessa found this item at a home improvement store.  Fire sprinklers should not be attached to hoses.  The water pressure isn't adequate.  The design makes no sense.  Plus, it gives a false sense of security.

Related:  Strange Construction:  Three of the Weirdest Construction Stories You'll Find

2.  Jokester "Fire Alarm"

Fire alarm joke.jpg

"Pull in Case of Dark"

Let's say there was a fire, and this was on the wall (FYI - there is an attachment to put this on the wall).  It is smokey.  The lights have been cut.  You pull it, thinking that an alarm is going to go off.  Then, a light pops on.

This joke fire alarm could end up causing someone's death.

3.  Fire extinguisher/lighter/keychain

Fire extinguisher.jpg

Not only is this a keychain, it is also a lighter.  As an FYI, all you need to do is tap the handle of the extinguisher to light the lighter.  Do you keep your keys in your pocket?  I do.  It wouldn't take much more than a shift to start a fire in your pants.

What are some terrible products that you have seen on the market?  Let us know in the comments.

Avoid the Fire Sprinkler Freeze: 3 Reasons to Drain Drum Drips in Power Plants

If water sits in the pipe, the results are micro-biologically influenced corrosion (MIC), pipe scale, or ice..jpg

At power plants, dry pipe fire sprinkler systems can be found in outdoor or unheated areas of the power plant like transfer stations, crusher buildings, and conveyors.  To protect the fire sprinkler from freezing in cold months, plants should complete cold weather maintenance and inspections.

Dry-pipe fire sprinklers need to be pitched just right to avoid sitting water during tests.  If water sits in the pipe, the results are micro-biologically influenced corrosion (MIC), pipe scale, or ice.  During the cold months, ice forming in pipes is a real problem.

The water that sits in the dry-pipe will freeze and expand by 10%.  Once it warms up, the expanded ice melts and reveals micro-cracks.  The cracks will change the air pressure, causing the valve to trip.  The pipes will fill with water and the small crack will begin to leak and enlarge until it is gushing.

power plant.jpeg

 

How do you avoid frozen fire sprinkler pipes?

1.  Schedule due diligence inspections

This inspection should be scheduled before it gets too cold.  The inspector will ensure that the pipe is pitched perfectly.  If it isn't, they will re-pitch the pipe and install drum drips. 

2.  Drain drum drips weekly

Drum drips will need to be drained weekly to ensure  sitting water is removed.  Even a perfectly pitched dry-pipe fire sprinkler can get some sitting water.  Draining drum drips is essential.

3.  Complete trip tests on time

Dry-pipe fire sprinklers need to be tested regularly.  Because of the environment that these systems are in, the obstruction mentioned above - MIC, scaling, and ice - can be a real issue.  Dry-pipe fire sprinklers should have a trip test conducted every 3 years.

Keep power plants protected year round by maintaining your dry-pipe fire sprinklers.  Freezing fire sprinkler pipes can cause thousands of dollars in damage, but can be easily avoidable.  When winter is approaching, schedule due diligence inspections, drain drum drips weekly, and test your dry-pipe fire sprinklers on time.

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A Closer Look at Clean Agents

clean agents

Special hazards can be complicated when it comes to fire protection.  The property is not the only thing considered.  A very important element of fire protection is the assets that are inside the property.  We’re taking a closer look at when clean agents are the appropriate fire protection solution.

Answer these questions honestly:

1.     Can the items in the property be easily replaced?

2.     Can your company afford the downtime a fire would cause?

3.     Do you have redundant fire protection systems?

4.     Can the business still operation if the system goes down?

If you answered no to these questions, you need to take a closer look at your fire protection system to ensure that you are not only protecting the property, but also the assets INSIDE the property.

What is a clean agent?

Much like Halon 1301, clean agents inhibit the chemical interaction of free radicals and use a cooling effect to extinguish fires.  Clean agents reach the level to extinguish a fire in 10 seconds or less.  FM-200 is a clean agent and Halon replacement.  It is gaseous, leaves no residue behind, safe to use around humans, and is safe for the environment. 

See FM-200 discharge.

 

What are clean agent alternatives?

The main clean agent alternative is inert gas.  Inert gas removes oxygen from the fire triangle (heat source, fuel, oxygen), which extinguishes the fire.  While inert gas is effective in snuffing out a fire and is safe for the environment, it is deadly to humans.  It removes the oxygen from the space, so inert gas should only be used in a space that is enclosed and where people can easily evacuate.  Extra safety measure are taken when inert gas is used as the fire protection agent.

Inert gas is less expensive than a clean agent; however, storage cost is more for inert gas and additional safety measures need to be made for inert gas.

See an inert gas discharge.

 

What types of facilities should use a clean agent?

Clean agents are generally seen in battery storage areas, computer rooms, and control rooms with electronics.

FM-200 is a great alternative to traditional fire suppression when a vulnerable area needs to be protected from fire. 

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Case Study - Stat-X System Protects CNC Machines

stat-x system

An industry-leading manufacturer turned to F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems for a fire protection solution that would protect their valuable equipment. When a fire occurred, the robust suppression system extinguished the fire before the delicate machinery could be damaged.

Seeking an Effective Fire Protection Solution for a High-Risk Environment

One of the industry's most established providers of specialized precision machined parts is headquartered in the Midwest, providing products to a worldwide customer base from their head office and manufacturing facility. Through the use of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines, they provide parts and pieces from bar stock that are machined to exacting tolerances. Their manufacturing methods are highly efficient but there are also high-risk fire hazards associated with the process.

 

Because of the hazardous nature of their machinery, the manufacturer decided to implement a robust, cost-effective fire protection system that would protect lives and assets without causing damage to valuable electrical equipment. The manufacturer reached out to F.E. Moran Special Hazard systems to implement a comprehensive fire protection system, which included Stat-X aerosol fire protection systems, manufactured by FireAway, Inc.

Robust Protection without Damage to Sensitive Equipment

After performing a thorough analysis of the facility's fire protection needs, F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems designed a comprehensive system that consisted of a dedicated, stand alone Stat-X Fire Protection Aerosol Generator and bracket, accompanied with a local fire alarm/releasing control panel with a local detection and release system. The Stat-X generator releases a fine potassium based aerosol that attacks a flame's free radicals, effectively slowing and extinguishing the fire. This was an ideal system for the application because the facility was afforded the peace of mind that their equipment would not only be safeguarded in the event of a fire, but additionally would not suffer any damage as a result of system discharge.

Overcoming Installation Challenges through Expertise and Experience

During the installation of the system, F. E. Moran encountered an obstacle that was related to the wiring of the CNC machines. Synchronizing the CNC shutdown wiring from the fire protection system's control to the point of interface was an intricate process, but F.E. Moran's experienced installers were able to navigate the wiring for an effective result. Upon completion of the installation, F.E. Moran performed thorough testing of the equipment to ensure that every aspect of the system would be fully operational in the event of a fire.

When Put to the Test, F.E. Moran's Systems Kept Equipment and Personnel Safe

In less than a year after the installation, the fire protection system was activated when a fire started in one of the CNC machines. The system's advanced detection system, which included sensitive Protectowire linear heat detection cable, sent a signal to the control panel at the first sign of the fire, which subsequently triggered the Stat-X system's discharge. 
It was critical that the detection system sensed the fire as soon as it ignited and it was essential that the control panel activated the system without delay because of the potential risks involved with the CNC machines. A key element to the manufacturing process is the cutting oil that CNC machines use to lubricate and cool the cutters and transport waste. These oils create an elevated risk for high intensity fires because of their flammability.

Beyond the hazards associated with the CNC machines, there were many intricate components of the equipment that were highly susceptible to fire damage. Within the machines there is control wiring to the internal parts of the system as well as an abundance of flexible plastic hoses that support the drilling and carving operations, carry cooling substances and lubrication elements.

Remarkably, the CNC machines endured the fire unscathed because of the effectiveness of the alarm/detection system and the Stat-X suppression system. Employees who were in the vicinity of the fire when it began indicate that it was a substantial event that had the potential for severe consequences. However, damage to the equipment was nonexistent because of the efficiency of the fire protection system. F. E. Moran Special Hazard Systems was able to replace the Stat-X generator and Protectowire cable within less than two working days, resulting in minimal downtime for the manufacturer.

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Blockages and Broken Pipes - Do You Know if Your System is Ineffective Due to Freezing in Pipes?

blockages and broken pipes

Maintaining optimal performance for a power generating or chemical processing facility's fire protection system demands a great deal of attention. Plant staff must continuously monitor the Fire Alarm Control Panel, conduct regular testing at prescribed intervals and perform ongoing system maintenance, along with other related tasks.  Among all of these duties, a critical consideration is sometimes neglected- freezing pipes. Most power generating or chemical processing facilities in the United States are susceptible to freezing temperatures during the winter months. This means that water that is subjected to these cold temperatures will inevitably freeze.  If the proper measures are not taken to prevent water from freezing within pipes, the consequences can be disastrous.

Is Your Facility at Risk for Frozen Pipes?

There are several different conditions that can result in frozen pipes and any facility that is located in a cold-weather area is at risk.  Perhaps the most common incident that results in freezing pipes is inadequate drainage of the system following activation.  Whether the system was tripped because of false detection, a routine inspection or an actual fire, failure to thoroughly drain the residual water will result in freezing if the ambient temperature is sufficiently cold.

Another circumstance that can subsequently cause water to freeze is the installation of a wet pipe system in an area that is not heated.  In new construction applications, the heat may not be functional at the time that the fire protection system is installed.  The lack of heat allows the potential for pipes that are continuously filled with water to freeze.

Costly Damage and Nonfunctional Sprinkler Systems - The Consequences of Frozen Pipes

The extent of the damage incurred from frozen pipes varies, depending upon the diameter of the pipe, the amount of water present and the temperature of the environment.  Typically, the grooved or threaded fittings are the first part of the system to succumb to the stress caused by the expansion of the ice.  However, if initial damage goes unnoticed, it is possible that the problem can escalate until a pipe itself bursts, propelling the resulting damages into the tens of thousands of dollars.  Impairment to the system's header, switches, air gauges and water gauges are also associated with frozen pipes.

A less obvious impediment to the system occurs when a mass of ice creates a blockage within the pipe, hindering or completely blocking the flow of water.  This situation is particularly hazardous because it is not overtly apparent that the system is not capable of functioning at full capacity.  It is possible that a plant could be completely oblivious of an ice blockage until a fire occurs and a sprinkler system fails to discharge water.

Simple Solutions to Eliminate Costs and Mitigate Risk

In perspective of the potentially costly damage or consequences of a malfunctioning system, the solutions that a plant can put into place to prevent freezing pipes are relatively simple.  In scenarios where a system has tripped and there is lingering water within the pipes, the water must be drained.  Before the valve is reset, the main valve, any low areas, or drum drips, should be drained to rid the system of any excess water.  This straightforward, yet effectual, practice should be executed every time water enters a dry pipe to prevent freezing water. 

Pipes that are continuously filled with water but are exposed to cold environments, such as pipe leading from a valve house outdoors, require a solution that will maintain the temperature in the pipe above freezing.  Heat tracing these pipes is an effective method for preventing ice blockages or damage to the system caused by expansion, and involves running heat-emitting wire along the pipe.

Although these solutions are fairly basic, plants too often incur cost and put their facility at unnecessary risk because the issue of freezing pipes was either overlooked or the plant staff was not aware of the gravity of the consequences.  After a system has been installed and tested, it is critical that staff members are fully trained about how to prevent freezing pipes and that continual education occurs at the facility to train new employees and remind existing staff of these best practices.

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Does Your Plant Have Adequate Fire Water Supply?

adequate water supply

The issue of fire water supply was one that formerly was not a high priority for most power generating plants or industrial processing facilities. However, this aspect of fire protection has recently become a point of focus for many insurance underwriters, which has consequently elevated its importance to these facilities.

Properly maintaining a fire protection system within a power generating or industrial processing facility involves diligent testing, inspection and maintenance practices that are performed at regular intervals. The scope of these functions is quite broad, entailing a host of actions on a wide variety of equipment. Unfortunately the breadth of these testing and inspection tasks can often cause critical elements of a system, such as fire water supply, to be overshadowed. Adequate fire water supply is essential to the operation of water-based fire protection systems, yet many facilities are not aware that their supply may be insufficient for optimal performance.

Why is Sufficient Fire Water Supply Important?

Adequate fire water supply is required to maintain sufficient water pressure and volume, allowing fire protection systems to function optimally
Fire water supply is the lifeblood of fire protection systems and when demand exceeds supply, the consequences can be disastrous. Fire protection systems depend on a specific pressure and volume of water to control fires and when the supply is not sufficient, their effectiveness is compromised.

As supply becomes diminished, each demand item (e.g. monitor, hose stream, sprinkler system) becomes ineffective in direct proportion to the failing supply. A supply shortage can be evidenced by lower pressures and reduced volumes discharged from the equipment. Every piece of a fire protection system has a minimum water supply design specification and when that standard is not achieved, systems do not function at optimum capacity.

Another more grave consequence of inadequate supply occurs when the water supply source runs dry. For example, if a system demands 10,000 gallons per minute and the system's fire water supply is 100,000 gallons, the system would run dry after only 10 minutes. Most plants have a finite fire water supply and if the allocated amount is not substantial enough to distribute sufficient water to the fire protection systems for the designed amount of time, there is a possibility that fires will not be properly controlled, potentially causing considerable damage to the plant.

How do Plants Become Deficient in Water Supply?

When the hydraulic design calculations for a fire protection system are performed for a specific facility, they are based upon the current configuration of the plant at that time. Because the lifespan of most power generating facilities or industrial processing plants is several decades, it is likely that modifications will be made to the site plan of the plant to reflect fluctuations in production or expansion of the facility. As this occurs, fire protection systems must also expand to correspond with the developing facility to remain in compliance with NFPA standards and insurance underwriters' requirements.

A growing fire protection system demands additional fire water supply but this aspect of system expansion is too often overlooked, putting the facility at risk that their fire protection system will not function as intended in the event of a fire. To perpetuate the issue, many facilities find themselves under multiple ownership histories, making it a strong possibility that the original design data has been lost. Without the initial design information, it is difficult to make a valid determination about how much fire water supply is needed for systems to function properly. When a plant cannot verify their supply versus their demand, it becomes necessary to conduct testing to establish whether or not modifications need to be made to increase a facility's supply.

 

Methods for Determining Fire Water Supply

There are a few methods that are effective for determining if fire protection systems are receiving enough water for effective operation. Each of these options has varying degrees of effort, usually with corresponding levels of accuracy.

Gradient Flow Test 


Conducted to determine the volume of water available at any given location, gradient flow tests are more precise than any computer-modeling-based test because the data is collected from actual flow test results as opposed to theoretical assumptions. Calibrated flow measurement devices are installed at appropriate test locations based on the hazard and system configuration. Water is flowed through the devices at several increasing volumes and the residual pressure is recorded at the test point for each flow rate test. The data is subsequently analyzed and plotted on a flow curve to provide visual results of flow volume in terms of gallons per minute at a specific pressure.

gradient flow

 

Fire Pump Performance Test 


Another technique for measuring fire water supply that is less intensive than gradient flow tests is a fire pump performance test. These tests are performed to determine the volume of water that is produced by the fire pumps, which is an indicator of the facility's fire water supply.

Before beginning the test, the manufacturer's pump ratings, such as gallons per minute (gpm), pressure (psi) and speed of the pump (rpm) must be determined. The pump is tested on three points per NFPA 25:

1. Churn - No flow
2. Rated Flow - Flowed at 100% 
3. Excess Capacity - Flowed at 150%

sample fire pump test curve

 

Factor Testing


To rule out the presence of an obstruction that is impeding the flow of water within an underground piping system, a factor test can be conducted. In the event that an obstruction is present within the piping, it can result in excessive loss of volume, rendering the fire protection system ineffective.

Factor test are conducted by using two points - a pressure measurement point and a flow point- that are typically established on a straight run of pipe. The actual distance between the two points is recorded and water is subsequently flowed from the flow point. After data is collected, it is analyzed and compared to the flow characteristics of normal pipe interiors to determine if there is a possible obstruction inhibiting the water flow.

Methods for Determining Fire Water Demand

Equally important, the fire water demand of a power generating plant or industrial processing facility must be calculated in relationship to the supply. The various methodologies for acquiring this information depend upon not only the level of exactness that the facility requires but also the design information that is available to the personnel conducting the tests.

Hazard Classification 


A process that involves taking a detailed inventory of the occupancy and material hazards of a facility, hazard classification surveys verify that the proper fire protection design criteria is being used. Surveys of all handled and stored materials as well as the different structures and their occupancy are performed to determine the hazard classifications throughout the site. Water supply demands can then be assessed based on the acquired data. These surveys are normally performed by someone well-versed in the applicable NFPA standards who has the expertise to formulate an accurate analysis.

Water Spray Systems Analysis


An alternative means for establishing water demand is through examination of each water spray system. If they are available, the facility can utilize the original design prints and hydraulic calculations to determine if the fire water supply meets the demand of the fire protection system. It is crucial to verify that if the system has been modified from its original form that the design and calculations that are being used in the water spray analysis correspond with the current design.

In instances where the original design is not available or reflective of the current installation, the facility must undergo a reverse engineering process to gauge the fire water demand. To begin, the existing pipe must be carefully surveyed and a set of as-built sketches created. Once the sketches have been formed, they are converted into Auto-CAD drawings to create a set of hydraulic calculations. This procedure is far more intensive than the former processes and requires highly skilled professionals who are experienced in fire protection system layout and design.

A Summary of Fire Water Supply vs. Demand

The issue of fire water supply was one that formerly was not a high priority for most power generating plants or industrial processing facilities. However, this aspect of fire protection has recently become a point of focus for many insurance underwriters, which has consequently escalated its importance to facilities as well.

Calculating the supply and demand of a fire protection system can be a complex, labor-intensive endeavor, which unfortunately deters many facilities from completing the process. Many times, the tests that must be performed exceed the knowledge of plant staff and should be performed by qualified fire protection personnel to ensure accurate analyses.

Beyond the requirements of insurance companies, fire water supply is a critical piece of the fire protection puzzle that is essential to the functionality of water-based systems. Having accurate knowledge of the current supply versus demand should be a top concern for facilities that are committed to protecting their valuable assets. When considering all of the time and investment that are spent on maintaining the functionality of fire protection systems, it must be remembered that without adequate water supply to meet the demand, systems may not perform to the degree that is necessary to sufficiently protect facilities.

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Demystifying the Alternatives to Traditional Plant Fire Suppression

Demystifying the Alternatives to Traditional Plant Fire Suppression.jpg

Many of the nation's power generating plants were constructed when there were five fire protection choices for their facilities: alarm and detection, sprinkler, Halon 1301, CO2 or remaining unprotected. Plants have undergone various upgrades to meet increasing levels of performance and to satisfy risk management/ insurance requirements. With the phasing out of Halon 1301 and the emergence of many new fire suppression alternatives, it can be challenging to determine which method is the most appropriate for each unique environment.

The Demise of Halon 1301


Following its introduction into the fire protection market in the 1960's Halon 1301 experienced three decades as a very popular, effective and diverse method of fire suppression. In applications such as data centers, laboratories, cable spreading rooms, control rooms and areas where getting access to water was a challenge, Halon 1301 was an ideal solution. The effectiveness of the gas was unparalleled at the time and the lack of residue after discharge made it the best available option for a wide array of applications.

However, as mounting evidence emerged that chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's- a component of Halon 1301) were depleting the ozone layer, the downfall of this consummate gas was imminent. In 1989, an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol was signed into effect, which subsequently called for a cease in production of Halon 1301, effective in 1994. The fire protection industry was then faced with the challenge of refining and developing alternative fire suppression systems that would rival the effectiveness of Halon 1301 without any deleterious effects on the environment.

Environmental Regulations for Suppression Systems


With increasing emphasis on environmentally safe products, regulations pertaining to the development of chemical-based suppression are continuously evolving. Some of the terms that relate to the environmental regulation of suppression products are listed in the table below:

environmental regulations

All of these variables and more play a role in the design of alternative fire suppression systems. In the wake of the Montreal Protocol, the Clean Air Act (ACC) and other environmental measures, the market was flooded with new products, vying to fill the void left by Halon 1301.

The Frontrunners Emerge


Ultimately the market has settled down and substandard products have been eliminated, leaving a core group of solutions that meet these environmental regulations and individually offer their own benefits for varying applications. Of the suppression products that have materialized over the past few decades, clean agents, hypoxic (oxygen deprivation) systems and water mist have solidified the strongest positions in the marketplace.

Although these methods have the strongest presence in power generating and chemical processing plants, there are other alternatives that are fitting for these applications. Carbon dioxide systems have a long history in these environments but must be applied only in very specific conditions in order to preserve life safety. Aerosols are another suppression alternative that is currently on the rise with a growing presence in industrial applications. As is demonstrated in the Alternative Suppression Agents Matrix at the end of this article, there are an abundance of suppression options available to facilities, but careful evaluation is often needed to find the optimal solution for the specific hazard.

Clean Agents 


In terms of functionality, clean agents are the alternative that most closely mirror the operation of Halon 1301. By using a mix of cooling effects and inhibiting the chemical interaction of the free radicals of the heat chain reaction and the oxygen/fuel, fires are effectively suppressed.

The category of clean agents generally covers HFC (hydrofluorocarbons) style agents such as FM-200 and ECARO-25 (HFC-125). The early emergence of FM-200 on the market as a replacement, but not a direct drop-in replacement substitute to Halon 1301, has allowed it to gain a massive share of the special hazard systems market, ranging from 75% to 85% of the systems installed.

Another prevalent clean agent that is not of the HFC family is the Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid, manufactured by 3M. Because it has a much higher boiling point than FM-200 & ECARO-25, its advent into the market came with a high degree of visibility because it could be displayed in open containers. The boiling point for FM-200 is 2.48 oF and ECARO-25 is -55.3 oF, whereas Novec 1230 has a boiling point of 120 oF.

The initial price of clean agents compared to inert agents can be a deterrent for facilities when selecting a solution, but the higher cost is offset by economical storage options. Inert agents themselves are comparatively inexpensive but the 360psig stored pressure vessels in which clean agents are housed more than compensates for the cost of the gas, making clean agents the most economical alternative to traditional sprinkler systems.

A caveat with hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) based agents such as FM-200, HFC-125 and the fluoroketone, NOVEC 1230, is that when exposed to high temperatures, one of the byproducts of thermal decomposition is hydrogen fluoride (HF). This is a caustic acid that can have toxic effects on people and destructive effects on equipment. Factors such as the size of the fire and temperatures involved has a direct bearing on the amount of hydrogen fluoride produced. With the vast majority of installations the level of HF will not reach dangerous toxic loads (DTL).

Inert Agents: 


This class of agents utilizes three primary inert gases in varying quantities: nitrogen, argon and carbon dioxide. Utilizing these gases for the purpose of fire suppression involves depriving a fire of oxygen by inserting inert agents, which effectively displaces a significant amount of the room's atmosphere, lowering the level of oxygen to the threshold at which combustion is not supported. Although an effective method of suppression, there are several considerations that must be regarded to determine if inert agents are a viable solution for a particular environment.

Because of the substantial shift in the concentration of atmospheric gases, human exposure must be severely restricted. The general standard for all systems is a maximum exposure time of five minutes per NFPA, although this time interval decreases as concentrations of the agent rise. NFPA sets these limits not only because of the dangers associated with the inert or clean agent themselves, but also because of the undesirable particulates inherent to the fire itself and the risks associated with possible thermal decomposition. Another essential variable that must be assessed is the environment itself.

Proper design of the room in which an inert agent could potentially be deployed is critical to its effectiveness. A typical atmospheric composition is approximately 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen and a 1% amalgamation of CO2, methane, helium and trace amounts of other miscellaneous gases. To successfully control a fire through inert agents, the oxygen level in the room must be reduced to 15% or less. For this to be achieved, anywhere from 35% to 50% of the room volume will be replaced with the inert agent in the span of 60 seconds, making it essential that proper venting exists to exhaust the ambient atmosphere of the room. Failure to provide venting could result in collapsed walls or blown out doors, putting facility occupants at risk. Inert agent hydraulic calculations can provide enclosure minimum strength requirements and required minimum venting to ensure the structural aspects of the room are sufficient.

Beyond the prerequisites of the area that is being protected, plants also need to be cognizant of the requirements associated with storage of the gases. Inert agents, without refrigeration, must be stored as a gas under pressure. To maximize the amount of inert agent available, systems are designed to provide storage in pressures up to 300 bar or 4351 pounds per square inch gauge (PSIG). Most systems are based on 200 Bar (2900 PSIG), making the most expensive component of the system the storage tanks. Due to their limited capacity, many tanks must typically be assembled and manifolded together to protect a space, driving up the cost of the system. A manifold assembly of schedule 80 or 160 piping is required to handle the pressure until an engineered pressure reducer orifice is reached. These orifices reduce the pressure and the flow to levels that schedule 40 piping can sustain for the balance of the system piping to the discharge nozzles.

Water Mist:


This group of systems relies chiefly on the most traditional medium for suppressing fires- water. There is a very diverse and wide-ranging product offering of water mist systems available, based on pumped or "twin fluid" systems, giving facilities the flexibility they need for their specific environment. A good fit for mechanical spaces, turbine areas/enclosures and machinery spaces, water mist systems are suitable for environments that present a primarily Class B hazard with limited Class A combustibles.

The foundation of water mist systems is miniscule water droplets that are many times smaller than those created by a typical sprinkler head. With a size range of 10-400 microns, (for reference, a sheet of copy paper is approximately 100 microns thick) these droplets are extremely buoyant and have an overall elevated surface area. When a water droplet impinges on a fire the fire is cooled and the water droplet is converted to steam, expanding at a 1 to 1700 ratio, which also deprives the fire of oxygen.

Some water mist systems also utilize nitrogen to generate a smaller water droplet size through specially engineered nozzles or a distribution system, creating a more robust suppression solution. Nitrogen is used in the piping leading to or at the specially engineered nozzles, displacing the room volume. The amount of nitrogen that is introduced into the room is not as substantial as an inert agent system but it still provides significant aid in the fire suppression effort. 
 

Carbon Dioxide:


Another solution that gained popularity following the halt of Halon 1301 production was carbon dioxide systems, which have maintained a presence in specific applications. A potentially lethal agent, the levels of concentration that are required to control a fire also diminish the level of oxygen to a degree that the atmosphere can no longer support life. Because CO2 is heavier than air, there is also a risk in any low lying areas immediately adjacent or underneath the hazard where the gas may "pool". In recent years NFPA has moved to add significant safety features to CO2 systems when installed in normally occupied enclosures. All other methods of fire suppression must be exhaustively researched (and documented) as viable alternatives prior to allowing CO2 to be used. Lock out valves, pneumatic time delays, signage and pneumatic audible signals must be included in the system design. In rare cases these safety devices can be eliminated when hazards to personnel and protected equipment present too much of a danger by adding the safety equipment to the system.

Selecting the Best Option for Your Application


The advancement of fire suppression systems that fall outside the traditional realm of sprinkler systems is essential to ensuring the protection of power generating plants and chemical processing facilities, especially as the hazards themselves continue to evolve. The disadvantage of a market saturated with new products and features is that the decision making process for facilities has also become more convoluted.

When assessing the various suppression options, the first crucial step is to evaluate the actual hazard to the asset that is being protected. The fire classification must be determined so that the facility can narrow their choices as to which suppression method is the most effective for the application.

hazard classification table

 

The next factor that must be considered is the environment in which the agent would be discharged. Adaptations often need to be made to the space such as: sealing walls, modifying doors, HVAC shutdowns, clipping ceiling tiles, dampering supply and exhaust ductwork, sealing conduit and cable penetrations and more. Cylinder storage must also be considered, as some agents demand a close vicinity between the agent and the point of discharge. Halon 1301 was easy to work with hydraulically but many agents are not nearly as flexible regarding distances.

Other influences such as insurance company input and local codes and ordinances can have a substantial impact on the outcome of a facility's suppression scheme as well. The facility must work with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to implement a system that will meet their individual fire protection needs while remaining in compliance with local regulations. Lastly, before finalizing the design, facilities should require proof that the system will operate effectively within their specific environment. It is critical that power generating and chemical processing plants work with a knowledgeable and experienced fire protection solution provider who can ensure that they have selected the appropriate system and used correct design and installation methodologies for the application.

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Solar Power's Secret Fire Hazards

solar power plant

Contributor:  Daryl Bessa, President of F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems
Writer:  Sarah Block, Marketing Director of The Moran Group

The sun beams enough energy in one hour to power the entire world for one year. However, the world is still in the beginning stages of adopting this renewable energy source. There are many aspects of solar power that are misunderstood. A major misconception is the idea that solar power plants have no inherent fire risk. The majority of large scale solar power plants are concentrated solar power plants (CSP), which use solar energy to power conventional steam turbines. Therefore, CSP plants have the same fire hazards as many conventional power plants. With the push to "green" energy, CSP plants are gaining popularity. Currently, 1,000MW of energy from concentrated solar power is under construction (cleantechnica.com); enough to power 200,000 homes. With the rapid growth of this form of energy, how do we keep it protected from fire?

 

Converting the Sun into Power

Harnessing the sun's energy into usable electricity is one of the cleanest forms of power. It is a renewable source of energy that will faithfully rise each morning. The process of converting the sun's rays into power is relatively simple, but can create fire hazards that must be protected.

CSP plants use a series of lenses, mirrors, or heliostats and tracking systems to condense sunlight into a narrow beam of light. Solar plants have numerous options for technology that condenses the sunlight into a beam: Concentrating Linear Fresnel Reflector, Stirling Dish, Linear Parabolic Reflector/Parabolic Troughs, Solar Dish, or Solar Power Tunnel. The intense beam of light created is then used to provide heat to power a conventional steam turbine.

The concentrated beam of sunlight is used as a heat source to warm the heat transfer fluid, molten salt, or steam generator to power the steam turbine. The steam turbine is connected to a generator, which produces the energy.

Because concentrated solar power plants are a combination of solar energy and steam energy, the same fire hazards are present as in many other power plants.

Hidden Fire Hazards in a Solar Power Plant

Solar power: the words themselves give the illusion of safe energy. However, CSP plants share several of the fire hazards that many standard plants possess. Lube oil systems, transformers, turbine bearings, switchgears, and other areas of concern associated with conventional plants should be considered.

In an HTF type plant, the solar field has its own fire hazards. The concentrated sunlight created from the solar field is used to bring the heat transfer fluid to a high temperature. The heat transfer fluid flows from the solar field to a standard steam turbine. The heat transfer fluid is generally a form of oil and can be very flammable. The heat transfer fluid introduces a fire hazard to the solar field. The heat transfer fluid pump and pipe racks can be protected with deluge systems and linear heat detection.

The heat transfer fluid flows until it reaches the heat exchanger which can be another potential problem area. The steam turbine uses lube oil to keep it moving smoothly. Fires can ignite within the turbine underfloor, exciter, lube oil piping, or the turbine bearings. It is recommended that a robust fire protection system is installed in this area. An automatic sprinkler, foam-water sprinkler, or deluge system is appropriate for the turbine area. An early warning detection system will ensure that the plant personnel are given adequate notice of a fire ignition. A fire protection solution provider will be able to provide custom recommendations based on the plant's particular hazards.

solar power plant

 

The next step in solar energy generation is the generator, which produces the energy. The generator contains lube oil, and/or hydrogen which can fuel a fire from the slightest spark. To protect a generator, a pre-action sprinkler system or inert gas system is ideal. They reduce the likelihood of an accidental discharge while protecting delicate equipment.

Cooling towers are often thought of as fire resistant because they are usually wet; however, cooling towers contain hidden dry areas and are completely dry during maintenance. Cooling towers are made from combustible materials. The heat source in a cooling tower fire can come from outside sources, such as a fire from another part of the plant that has spread or internal sources, such as maintenance welding, overheated bearings, or electrical failures. A concern within cooling towers is the accelerated corrosion of piping, including fire protection pipes. Plants must take this into consideration and adjust the inspection, testing, and maintenance schedule for this part of the plant.

Concentrated solar power plants provide a clean, renewable form of energy throughout the world. However, inherent fire hazards may be overlooked within this form of energy generation. Plants must protect the valuable assets, people, and production with a proper fire protection solution. Work with an experienced fire protection solution provider to ensure all fire hazards are adequately protected with robust fire sprinklers and detection systems.

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The Cost of Skipping Quarterly Water-Based Fire Sprinkler Inspections

quarterly inspections

Contributors:  Art Pfeiffer, Brian Harding, Chuck Rogers, Larry Edwards, Paul Holman, and Scott Jarvis of F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems
Writer:  Sarah Block, Marketing Director of The Moran Group  

A recycling plant fire in Georgia that ignited in the winter of 2007 provides a chilling example of the importance of regularly maintained and inspected fire sprinklers.  The fire broke out in a machinery room and rapidly spread throughout the plant, activating 75 sprinkler heads.  It killed one civilian and caused $7.5 million in damages.  After the investigation was complete, it was determined that the reason the fire sprinklers proved ineffective was because they were not maintained and had not been inspected according to the NFPA schedule.  Maintenance deficiencies included improper sprinkler clearance, sprinkler risers modified to allow the use of garden-type hoses, and the valves were not fully opened.  If the wet-pipe fire sprinkler had been inspected quarterly, as is the requirement according to NFPA, this tragedy would not have happened.

Causes of Water-Based Sprinkler Failure

Any facility type runs the same risk when their water-based sprinklers are not regularly inspected according to NFPA schedule requirements.  Power generating plants, chemical processing plants, and heavy manufacturing plants often choose annual inspections because many fire protection systems are required to be inspected on an annual basis; however, water-based fire sprinklers are required to be inspected quarterly. 

The top reasons for water-based sprinkler failure according to NFPA:

 1.  System was manually shut-off early.
 2.  Wrong type of system for hazard.
 3.  Water discharged, but the water did not reach the fire.
 4.  Lack of maintenance.
 5.  System components are damaged.

Four out of the five top causes for fire sprinkler failure would be addressed with regular inspections.  When facilities change the type of hazard they house or renovate to accommodate an expanding or new business venture, fire sprinklers need to be taken into consideration.  The changes to the facility may alter the fire sprinkler needs, and, if so, adjustments will need to be made to provide adequate protection to the new environment (2).  For example, the sprinkler clearance (3) may need to be modified to accommodate facility changes.  During quarterly inspections, issues two and three would be found and addressed before the problems cause a catastrophe.  When a renovation is taking place, it is recommended to consult a fire protection contractor to ensure that the fire sprinklers are up to code with the building modifications

Lack of maintenance (4) and damaged system components (5) are also addressed during quarterly inspections.  If the inspector found that maintenance was needed, it would be done promptly, leading to a safer building.  Common maintenance problems found may be corroded sprinkler heads or painted sprinkler heads.  Damaged system components can happen as easily as a forklift bumping a sprinkler head or a shuttered building’s wet-pipe sprinkler freezing and cracking the pipe.  The damage often happens without anyone’s knowledge and goes unnoticed until an inspector finds the damage or a fire event happens.  

Quarterly Inspection Requirements | NFPA

fire sprinkler schedule

 

Quarterly Inspections Made Easy

Quarterly inspections may seem like a daunting task, but it can be quite easy with the right resources.  Many fire sprinkler contractors provide inspection services or can recommend a company that can provide inspections at a reasonable cost.  When a contractor is hired to provide inspections, facilities have the benefit of having a resource that will track the inspection schedule for the plant and make sure that fire protection systems are in peak working condition.  Some high quality fire sprinkler contractors will provide inspection training for plant personnel to provide them the opportunity to inspect their own systems.

Benefits of Quarterly Inspections

Remaining up to date on quarterly inspections provides multiple benefits.  More often than ever, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is enforcing quarterly water-based fire sprinkler inspections.  Maintaining the NFPA schedule will ensure that fines are avoided. 

Another benefit for quarterly inspections is insurance discounts.  Many of the top insurers provide discounts to property owners based on the frequency of their inspections.

With regularly scheduled quarterly inspections, plants have the peace of mind in knowing that their fire protection system will be in top condition in the event of a fire.  Protect people, plant, and production by maintaining plant fire protection equipment. 

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Upgrading Co2 Suppression

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Contributor: James Bouche, Project Manager of F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems
Writer:  Sarah Block, Marketing Director of The Moran Group

Fire sprinklers are necessary to mitigate property damage from fire. The difficulty comes into play when the space you need to protect is water sensitive. Either it can damage the equipment held in the space or the equipment could react adversely to water. To mitigate any potential issues, sensitive spaces can utilize Co2 suppression that can extinguish a fire without water. While this seems ideal, there are potential health concerns with the use of Co2. Because of this, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) wrote an addendum to NFPA 12, requiring life safety additions to any new and existing Co2 fire protection systems.

Uses for Co2 suppression

Protecting areas with delicate equipment from fire can be difficult. There is a vast array of plant areas that have equipment that can be damaged or react adversely to water-based suppression:
• Power plants - turbine generator enclosures, transformer vaults, hazardous material storage rooms, and battery storage rooms.
• Aluminum rolling mill plants - mill roll stacks, bearings/oil hose connections, fume hoods, coilers, and oil pits.
• Cement plants - dust collection cyclones and bag houses.

These are the applications where carbon dioxide suppression is best.

The carbon dioxide floods the area and displaces the oxygen. A fire needs three elements to stay alive: oxygen, fuel, and an ignition source. By removing the oxygen, the carbon dioxide extinguishes the fire. While this is quite effective, and leaves no damage behind, it is hazardous to humans - so much so that in 2005 NFPA 12 added a section to minimize the potential for human casualties caused by carbon dioxide poisoning. This addition effected not only future Co2 suppression, but also existing, requiring a retrofit to meet new requirements. While this addition was implemented on August 7, 2006, there are still many plants that are not up to code on this life safety addition. OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1910.159, complements NFPA 12's update, protecting employees from possible illness, injury, or death from a fire suppression system. Click here to read the full standard.

Symptoms of Co2 Poisoning

Carbon dioxide is not often thought of as a silent killer. It is added to soft drinks after all. However, in concentration of 10% or greater, it can easily cause illness and/or death.

 

Carbon dioxide poisoning can bring on symptoms such as deeper or labored breathing, twitching muscles, increased blood pressure, headache, increased pulse rate, eye and ear injury, loss of judgment, loss of consciousness, and death is possible as well.

Safety Regulations Introduced for NFPA 12, Section 4.3

To protect lives from CO2 fire suppressants, NFPA added section 4.3 to NFPA 12 to include life safety. The following measures must be included in carbon dioxide fire protection. Without these modifications, the fire protection system will not pass inspection and lack NFPA and OSHA compliance.
• Any personnel who enter a space protected by a carbon dioxide fire suppression system (or a space adjacent to a carbon dioxide fire suppression system where CO2 could migrate after a discharge) must be warned of the hazard and trained on safety evacuation procedures.
• Oil of Wintergreen must be added to the carbon dioxide to give it a distinctive smell and warn personnel of carbon dioxide discharge. Personnel need to be trained to notice the smell and evacuate when the smell is detected.
• Automatic carbon dioxide alarms need to be installed with a visual and audio element.
• Confined space procedures for areas that have carbon dioxide suppression must be established and enforced.
• Staff needs to be trained on the safety risks of carbon dioxide.
• Lockout valves are required on all carbon dioxide systems. The exception is if the space is too small for people to enter. However, if that space would allow seepage and the carbon dioxide to migrate from that confined space, then lockout valves do need to be added whether a person could fit in the space or not. In addition, a service disconnect cannot replace a lockout valve.

Without the NFPA 12 update, plants will fail inspection for not being compliant and will not meet OSHA regulations. For plants that have Co2 suppression systems and have not yet done the NFPA 12, Section 4.3 update, contact a qualified fire sprinkler contractor to ensure code compliancy.

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Fire Hazards and Fire Protection - Gas-fired Power Plants

gas-fired power plant

Updated October 17, 2018


Purpose: To inform plant engineers and engineering firms of the fire hazards associated with gas-fired power plants and the related fire protection options.

Highlights:

  • Where are the fire hazards in a gas-fired power plant?

  • How do these areas pose a fire threat?

  • What fire protection will mitigate the fire hazards?




Gas-fired power plants are growing in popularity. Canada has already begun to phase out coal-fired power plants in favor of gas-fired power plants. Gas is less expensive and a cleaner form of fuel than coal. However, with a surge in gas-fired power plants being built, a closer look needs to be taken on the fire hazards within these plants.

In 2010, the Kleen Energy Systems Power Station, a combined cycle gas and oil power plant, had an explosion in the turbine building when natural gas was being purged from the gas line. Six people were killed.

In 2014, the Didcot B Power Station, a gas-fired plant, had a major cooling tower fire. The fire spread from one to three cooling towers. Luckily, no one was injured. However, it does serve as an example of what can happen in gas-fired power plants and the need for proper fire protection.

Fire hazards are abundant in gas-fired power plants. With natural gas, lube oil, and combustible materials throughout these plants, a small spark can grow into an inferno.

Gas-fired power is on its way to becoming one of the biggest producers of power in North America. With less than 20% of the global coal-fired capacity residing in North America, gas is bringing up the rear and establishing itself as a contender for king of energy production. But what are the fire hazards in these plants?

 

Cooling Tower

Cooling towers are deceptive by name. It's a cooling tower. It has water flowing through it. Despite these facts, they do pose very real fire hazards. Cooling towers contain combustible materials throughout the structure: polyvinyl chloride (PVC), fiberglass reinforced plastic, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polypropylene nozzles, and wood.



While the water flowing through the cooling tower may hinder a fire, the water is not everywhere. There are dry spots and occasionally the water is turned off for maintenance. Hot work accidents, smoking, or electrical arcing can cause fires that can spread quickly with the abundance of fire fuel.

Another way cooling tower fires begin is from outside sources like Didcot B Power Station. NFPA 214 states, "A significant percentage of fires in water cooling towers of combustible construction are caused by ignition from outside sources such as incinerators, smokestacks, or exposure to fire." It goes on to explain fires that begin in cooling towers, "Ignition within these structures can be caused by welding, or cutting operations, smoking, overheated bearings, electrical failures, and other heat or spark producing sources."

Cooling towers require very specific fire protection that is designed and installed in accordance with NFPA and FM Global standards. Whether the tower is crossflow or counterflow, a fire protection system can be designed to meet its needs. Read more about cooling tower fire protection needs here.

Another item of note is the corrosive nature of cooling towers. Because of the wet environment, fire protection can deteriorate faster than in other environments. Contaminated water, lack of pH balance, and the warm environment can lead to the deterioration or corrosion of fire sprinkler piping. It is important to schedule annual inspection, testing, and maintenance to ensure that the fire protection is still up to par. Read more about the deterioration of cooling tower fire protection here.


Steam & Gas Turbines

Lube oil is the most common cause of turbine fires. In a recent study referenced by FM Global, during a 15 year period, 17 large turbine building fires resulted in $400 million in gross loss. Lost generating capacity was at 20 million MWh. The average loss per fire was $24 million US dollars with an average of a 24 week outage.  Learn more here. 

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In the FM Global report referenced above, FM Global sites fire events in which fire protection was present. In example one, a hot surface ignited leaking lube oil on a steam turbine; employees activated a water spray system. The fire was extinguished without property damage, and the generator was only down for six hours. In example two, an oil leak in a gas turbine started a fire. The fire was suppressed with gas suppression. It limited the damage to $20,000. That is a 199.66% reduced damage cost from the average.

For steam turbines, the best automatic fire protection system is a water-based system, which can act quickly and tap down the fire. For gas turbines, F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems recommends inert gas fire suppression. Inert gas is a good alternative to Co2 suppression because it is non-lethal and safe with humans present.

Generator

Much like turbines, a generator's main fire hazard is lube oil. Lube oil may be released during any number of maintenance errors or due to deterioration. Lube oil is often released in a spray formulation, due to the high pressure. Spray lube fires become large fast, and it is very necessary to have fire protection present. The best fire protection for a generator fire is inert gas. It will not hurt the equipment or affect the health of nearby plant personnel.

 

Compressor

Compressors have natural gas that can leak and cause explosions and subsequent fires. Natural gas is dangerous in quantity of over 5%. When natural gas reaches 5-15%, it can explode when temperatures reach 1,165 degrees. Considering an undeveloped, post-flashover fire is about 1,000 degrees and a fully developed gas fire reaches about 1,500 degrees, it won't take long once a fire spark ignites for the natural gas to reach an explosive level.

Natural gas also has the added danger of being colorless and odorless. A scent is added to natural gas, but if it is going through soil, the scent could be scrubbed. Another issue is natural gas' tendency to reignite once extinguished.

The best fire protection for compressors is gas detection and fire sprinklers. Gas detection can alert plant personnel of a gas leak before it grows out of control. An automatic fire sprinkler system will keep the fire under control before it can spread and possibly extinguish it.

Transformers

If you follow power industry news, you will see transformer fires peppered throughout. Transformer fires are dangerous and hard to control. They usually start with a short-circuit. A small short-circuit creates an electrical arc that vaporizes the oil within the transformer. In less than a second, an explosion can happen.

Deluge fire sprinkler systems are recommended for transformers. Transformer fires are fierce and need immediate, thorough action. Deluge fire sprinklers drench the immediate area, pouring water on the transformer. This helps control the fire until it can be extinguished.




In Conclusion

Protecting people, property, and production is a top priority for all businesses. Power plants can reduce damages, their staff's safety risk, and lost production time by installing and maintaining proper fire protection for each area of the gas-fired power plant.

With a surge of gas-fired power plants joining the power market, now is the time to take action, and ensure that your plant's fire protection is up to code and ready for when a fire ignites.

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