Canadian Underwriter

How coffee whitener and aluminum dust can pose a fire risk

October 19, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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Clients could be surprised at the fire and explosion risk to which they are exposed if they are in the 3D printing business or produce dust of any kind.

“It is easier to name the dusts that are not explosible than to name the dusts that are,” said Martin Clouthier, vice president and global service line leader, industrial and process safety at engineering firm Jensen Hughes.

“People are usually surprised that most metals can be exploded. You can ignite and cause serious deflagrations or explosions,” he said.

Clouthier was interviewed shortly after Baltimore-based Jensen Hughes announced it offers commercial flammability and dust explosibility testing at a Halifax lab, using a one-cubic-metre explosion chamber. Jensen Hughes offers accident reconstruction and laboratory services, among others.

“Anything from titanium, aluminum, to coal dust and coffee cream powder can all pose different severities of explosion hazards,” said Clouthier.

“Almost every time we test a dust, it is explosible. So if I was in a plant manager at a facility where there is an accumulation of dust, the first thing that I would want to do is determine if the dust is explosible.”

3D printing is a case in point because 3D printing results in metallic powder, said Clouthier.

“Aluminum is quite hazardous. It is used in rocket fuel. So it stands to reason why it poses such a hazard,” said Clouthier.

The dust produced from almost any type of metal-working – such as manufacturing or grinding aircraft components – could pose an explosion risk.

“There are a myriad of processes that use aluminum in particulate form and once they fall below a certain particle size, they become highly reactive.”

At its Halifax facility – in the Burnside area – Jensen Hughes is not trying to replicate a factory or equipment

“The test apparatus and procedures were developed to represent credible worst-case conditions for the material. We test the material across a range of concentrations,” said Clouthier.

How hazardous a dust is depends on the concentration in the air – similar in concept to gases like propane and hydrogen, suggested Clouthier.

So the “gold standard” of testing is a one cubic metre chamber, he said.

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