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Fires in brass furnaces have always been a danger.

First let us review the process; as the material is fed into the furnace it has many metals including zinc, tin etc. Some of these actually go to vapor and then condense and turn into solids. These materials will ultimately end up in a furnace dust collector.

The key is that these metals are very fine with very large area to weight ratios. The exhaust is generally cooled by mixing with ambient air so the metals are not appreciably oxidized. The dusts collect, with the other dusts, in the dust filter cake.

When the collector is shut down the metals start to oxidize and the effect is like catalytic combustion. The oxidation produces heat. The dust is usually a good heat insulator and “hot spots” occur. Sometimes the temperature is high enough to start a fire when the flow was stopped. More often, when the collector is turned on, the initial flow fans the sparks and when conditions are optimum for combustion, a fire will start. Most of the time small holes or scorching can be noticed on the bags before a fire.

Sparks may occur as scrap is added to the molten metal. This is common when the scrap is oily. The usual time to add scrap into the furnace is at the end of the shift when the collector is especially vulnerable to fires.

Prevention of fires in a furnace dust collector

The approach to prevent fires is to extinguish sparks if they are present and to cool the hot spots when air is not flowing through the system.

To extinguish sparks the flow before the collector must be changed from laminar to turbulent flow. This is accomplished by installing a QUENCHER spark arrestor in the air conduit to the dust collector.

To keep the “hot spots” cool, my suggestion is to pulse the collector off line every thirty minutes or so for one complete cycle to cool the “hot spots”. If the off-line cleaning is too frequent, the cake will be destroyed or damaged, so, the cleaning must be controlled.

When selecting a fabric pulse jet collector, high-ratio technology designs can operate at filter ratios of 16:1.  Cartridge collectors are not a good selection as the pleats may promote formation of the hotspots described above.

We first used this technique at St Joe Mineral, which was near Pittsburgh, 30 years ago, on their zinc oxide furnaces. We were informed that they were venting through an AAF pulse jet collectors. AAF has managed to put out some of the worst pulse jet collector designs in the Industry. From the description it sounds like a AAF FabriPulse. That collector if it is top access design has these venturies that wedge in the top of the bag. Using the American vernacular, it sucks. The purpose of the venturi is to seal the top of the bag with the cleaning jet. There are openings around the top of the bag below the wide part of the venturi. This, in effect, allows the jet to grow until the growth is stopped by the walls of the bag. That is an over simplification of the process, but it is a fact that it sucks. The net result is that the collector cleans poorly and there is a lot of dust that is forced into the surface and subsurface filter cake.

On any kind of brass furnace it is best to keep the dust cake porous and thin. As I explained previously, in a brass and other process, the zinc goes from vapor to liquid to solid and forms zinc fume. This zinc fume because of its large surface area to weight ratio can burn or explode quite easily.

We were involved in a legal action where the customer hired a man to change bags on a MikroPul collector venting a zinc dipping operation where they were coating pipes. The young man, after he was half finished (inside removal) sat on the temporary grate and decided to light up a cigarette. The collector exploded and then burned down. He was blown out the access door with the explosion and the sprinkler heads went on after the fire started and water poured over him as he was lying on the ground.

Since we were told that the fires started when the process flow continued we need to look at the source of ignition. If the ignition is caused by sparks, the best way to suppress sparks is by going from laminar to turbulent flow in the dust before reaching the collector, with a good in-line spark arrestor. The next source of ignition might be through the cleaning jet. The cleaning jet can supply oxygen from the compressed air and when it reaches the cake maybe sufficient to cause some sparks similar to small explosions to occur in the cake. This may ignite the rest of the fine fume fuel to start a fire. This would be very pronounced, if the collector was running at a high pressure drop with a dense thick cake and frequent pulsing.

We can attack the symptoms or the causes. One way to attack the symptoms is to limit the thickness of the cake. This can be accomplished by installing PTFE membrane laminated bags. Another way to attack the symptoms is to clean the collector with compressed nitrogen instead of compressed air.

One cause may be because of the atrocious design of the cleaning system. The way to remedy the poor design is to modify the cleaning system design. To implement the change we need to throw away the venturies and modify the pulse pipes so they can run without venturies. We can get the pulse pipes modified so they will induce more cleaning air per unit of compressed air, possibly lowering the formation of sparks on the bag surface. It would allow the collector to run at a lower pressure drop with less frequent pulsing.

I always like to look at how the operation of the collector interacts in the process of venting the furnace.

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