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Experiments in Thermal Ignition: Influence of Natural Convection on Properties of Gaseous Explosions


Martin, Conor Daniel (2023) Experiments in Thermal Ignition: Influence of Natural Convection on Properties of Gaseous Explosions. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/twcf-m219.


Explosion hazards exist in many industrial sectors including chemical processing, mining, nuclear power, and aviation. Thermal ignition is the name given to the particular case where the initiation energy is supplied via thermal heating of a gas. The critical conditions leading to thermal ignition are in general highly configuration dependent and require a broad set of experimentation to investigate the influence of wide ranging physical processes on ignition. To aid this effort the present work comprises three main experiments covering a range of thermal ignition hazards. First, a heated atmosphere test with fuel injection (ASTM-E659) was implemented to enable the study of heavy hydrocarbon fuels such as Jet A and multicomponent surrogates. This approach showed the existence of cool flame ignition modes near the ignition thresholds for most fuels. The autoignition temperature (AIT) of commodity Jet A was found to be reasonably reproducible by most alkane fuels including n-hexane. Multicomponent surrogates were also able to match the cool flame ignition regimes reasonably well.

Next, ignition using a vertical heated surface in a cold reactive atmosphere was studied in the laminar flow regime. The effects of dilution with nitrogen and reduced pressure were explored for n-hexane/oxygen/nitrogen mixtures. Results found a modest dependence of minimum ignition temperatures on pressure and nitrogen fraction however, with a significant reduction in explosion severity as measured by the maximum overpressure and transient duration. At sufficiently reduced oxygen concentrations, localized weakly propagating flames were found to form in the thermal layer near the surface and produce sustained puffing flame instabilities. One-dimensional flame simulations with detailed kinetics were conducted to supplement and aid in interpretation of the experimental measurements for diluted mixtures. Correlation of ignition thresholds were found to be possible using simplified flame properties and laminar natural convection boundary layer theory.

Finally, a novel experiment was designed to explore the effects of turbulent transition and confinement of large heated surfaces on ignition thresholds. Modeling of the energy balance for resistive heating showed that cylinders up to 36 in. long could be heated using modest power supplies. Six cylinder sizes of varying length were chosen based on this analysis to explore laminar, transitional, and turbulent flow regimes. A large scale flow visualization system was created to study these flow regimes and found that turbulent transition occurred for cylinders as small as 10 in. long for wall temperatures of 1000 K. A study of the transitional dependence on temperatures for large temperature difference (T = 555--1140 K), highly non-Boussinesq conditions found that the transitional Rayleigh number decreased by two orders of magnitude in this regime. The thermal layer thickness at the transition height was estimated in order to obtain a relevant length scale to the boundary layer transition problem. Using this a more consistent transition criteria was obtained (Ra using the thermal thickness length scale) and found to vary by only a factor of two in the high temperature cases studied.

The implementation of these cylinders in ignition testing revealed that there was a strong influence of heating rate due to confinement. The use of absorption spectroscopy showed that for low heating rates the fuel was mostly consumed in low temperature reactions prior to or in place of rapid ignition. This resulted in larger ignition temperatures and weak flames which propagate only in the thermal boundary layer. This effect was explained as a consequence of reduced flow recirculation times due to confinement. A strong influence of turbulence was also found for ignition thresholds when compared with other data for ignition by vertical hot surfaces in the laminar regime. Turbulence was also found to strongly influence the explosion properties due to turbulent flame acceleration. This resulted in larger explosion pressures, shorter transients, and faster flames.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Thermal Ignition; Natural Convection; Explosions; Flames; Combustion
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:
  • Austin, Joanna M. (chair)
  • Colonius, Tim
  • Hornung, Hans G.
  • Shepherd, Joseph E.
Defense Date:24 May 2023
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Boeing (United States)CT-BA-GTA-1
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06022023-192522565
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
http://10.1016/j.jlp.2021.104454DOIArticle adapted for Ch. 2
http://10.7795/810.20221124DOIArticle Adapted for Ch. 3
Martin, Conor Daniel0000-0003-2332-7383
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:16060
Deposited By: Conor Martin
Deposited On:05 Jun 2023 20:17
Last Modified:25 Oct 2023 20:49

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