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Thermal Ignition by Vertical Cylinders


Jones, Silken Michelle (2021) Thermal Ignition by Vertical Cylinders. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/9g5j-2b97.


Accidental thermal ignition events present a significant hazard to the aviation industry. There is scarcity of experimental data on ignition by external natural convection flows for surface areas larger than 10 cm². In this work, thermal ignition of external natural convection flows by vertical cylinders is investigated. The effect of geometry is studied by resistively heating stainless steel cylinders of various sizes in a stoichiometric n-hexane and air mixture at 298 K and 1 bar. Cylinder lengths range from 12.7 to 25.4 cm, and cylinder surface areas vary from 25 to 200 cm². Logistic regression is used to provide statistical information about the ignition threshold (50% probability of ignition). The maximum ignition threshold found is 1117 K for a cylinder 12.7 cm long and 50 cm² in surface area. The minimum ignition threshold found is 1019 K for a cylinder 25.4 cm long and 200 cm² in surface area. The maximum uncertainty on these ignition thresholds is ±29 K, which comes from the maximum uncertainty on the pyrometer measurement used to record cylinder surface temperatures. The dependence of ignition threshold on both surface area and length of a cylinder is found to be minor. High speed visualizations of ignition indicated that ignition occurs near the top edge of all cylinders.

The entire experimental setup is heated to allow for ignition tests with multi-component, heavy-hydrocarbon fuels including Jet A and two surrogate fuels, Aachen and JI. The cylinder used for all testing of heavier fuels is 25.4 cm long and 200 cm² in surface area. Hexane is also tested with the heated vessel to investigate the effect of ambient temperature on ignition. At an ambient temperature of 393 K, the ignition threshold of hexane is 933 K. Aachen has an ignition threshold of 947 K at an ambient temperature of 373 K. JI has an ignition temperature of 984 K at an ambient temperature of 393 K. Jet A has an ignition temperature of 971 K at an ambient temperature of 333 K. The maximum uncertainty on these thresholds is ±29 K. JI is found to be the most appropriate surrogate for Jet A.

From the experiments, two main conclusions are reached. Ignition threshold temperatures in external natural convection flows are very weakly correlated with surface area. The observed ignition thresholds do not show the drastic transition of ignition temperature with surface area that is observed in internal natural convection situations. Observed ignition thresholds for comparable surface areas (100 to 200 cm²) are 500 to 600 K higher for external natural convection than internal natural convection. Hexane was found to be a reasonable surrogate for Jet A (38 K difference in ignition threshold) in external natural convection ignition testing. The more complex multi-component JI surrogate, while having an ignition threshold more comparable to Jet A (13 K difference in ignition threshold), requires heating the experimental apparatus and associated difficulties of fuel handling as well as the soot generation by combustion.

Two simplified models of ignition are explored. The first is an investigation of ignition chemistry using a zero-dimensional reactor and a detailed kinetic mechanism for hexane. The temperature history of the reactor is prescribed by an artificial streamline whose rate of temperature increase is parametrically varied. The results from the zero-dimensional reactor computation reveal that a gradually heated streamline exhibits two-stage ignition behavior, while a rapidly heated streamline only experiences one ignition event. The second model of ignition is a one-dimensional simulation of ignition adjacent to a cylinder at a prescribed temperature. The formulation included diffusion of species and thermal energy as well as chemical reaction and employed Lagrangian coordinates. The chemistry is modeled with a reaction mechanism for hydrogen to reduce numerical demand. Heat flux and energy balance are analysed to gain insight into the ignition dynamics. Initially, heat transfer is from the wall into the gas, and a mostly nonreactive thermal boundary layer develops around the cylinder. As reaction in the gas near the surface begins to release energy, the heat transfer decreases, and, near the critical temperature for ignition, the direction of heat flux reverses and is from the gas into the wall. In a case where ignition takes place, there is rapid rise in temperature in the gas within the thermal layer, and a propagating flame is observed to emerge into surrounding cold gas. The heat transfer from the hot combustion products results in a continuous heat flux from the gas into the wall. In a case where ignition does not take place, no flame is observed and the heat flux at the wall is slightly positive. For the critical condition just below the ignition threshold, a balance between energy release and diffusion in the adjacent gas results in a small temperature rise in the thermal layer, but a propagating flame is not created. The Van't Hoff ignition criterion of vanishing heat flux at the ignition threshold is approximately but not exactly satisfied. Contrasting the two modeling ideas, we observe that modeling adiabatic flows along computed nonreactive streamlines is useful in examining the role of detailed chemistry but lacks important diffusion effects. Including mass and thermal transport provides more insight into important ignition dynamics but comes at the expense of increased computational complexity.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Combustion; natural convection; thermal ignition; ignition
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Shepherd, Joseph E.
Group:Explosion Dynamics Laboratory, GALCIT
Thesis Committee:
  • McKeon, Beverly J. (chair)
  • Blanquart, Guillaume
  • Austin, Joanna M.
  • Shepherd, Joseph E.
Defense Date:30 November 2020
Non-Caltech Author Email:silkenmjones (AT)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
The Boeing CompanyCT-BA-GTA-1
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:12182020-055522985
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription of work that was done by the author but was not included in the thesis that includes a portion of the results presented in Chapter 4
Jones, Silken Michelle0000-0003-3496-7191
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14034
Deposited By: Silken Jones
Deposited On:05 Jan 2021 19:32
Last Modified:16 Jan 2021 01:16

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