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Spark Ignition: Experimental and Numerical Investigation With Application to Aviation Safety


Bane, Sally Page Moffett (2010) Spark Ignition: Experimental and Numerical Investigation With Application to Aviation Safety. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/W1NB-5W06.


Determining the risk of accidental ignition of flammable mixtures is a topic of tremendous importance in industry and aviation safety. The concept of minimum ignition energy (MIE) has traditionally formed the basis for studying ignition hazards of fuels. However, in recent years, particularly in the aviation safety industry, the viewpoint has changed to one where ignition is statistical in nature. Approaching ignition as statistical rather than a threshold phenomenon appears to be more consistent with the inherent variability in the engineering test data.

Ignition tests were performed in lean hydrogen-based aviation test mixtures and in two hexane-air mixtures using low-energy capacitive spark ignition systems. Tests were carried out using both short, fixed sparks (1 to 2 mm) and variable length sparks up to 10 mm. The results were analyzed using statistical tools to obtain probability distributions for ignition versus spark energy and spark energy density (energy per unit spark length). Results show that a single threshold MIE value does not exist, and that the energy per unit length may be a more appropriate parameter for quantifying the risk of ignition than only the energy. The probability of ignition versus spark charge was also investigated, and the statistical results for the spark charge and spark energy density were compared. It was found that the test results were less variable with respect to the spark charge than the energy density. However, variability was still present due to phenomena such as plasma instabilities and cathode effects that are caused by the electrodynamics.

Work was also done to develop a two-dimensional numerical model of spark ignition that accurately simulates all physical scales of the fluid mechanics and chemistry. In this work a two-dimensional model of spark discharge in air and spark ignition was developed using the non-reactive and reactive Navier-Stokes equations. One-step chemistry models were used to allow for highly resolved simulations, and methods for calculating effective one-step parameters were developed using constant pressure explosion theory. The one-step model was tuned to accurately simulate the flame speed, temperature, and straining behavior using one-dimensional flame computations. The simulations were performed with three different electrode geometries to investigate the effect of the geometry on the fluid mechanics of the evolving spark kernel and on flame formation. The computational results were compared with high-speed schlieren visualization of spark and ignition kernels. It was found that the electrode geometry had a significant effect on the fluid motion following spark discharge and hence influences the ignition process.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Spark ignition, explosions, flames, minimum ignition energy, hydrogen
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Awards:William F. Ballhaus Prize, 2010. Everhart Distinguished Graduate Student Lecturer Award, 2010.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Shepherd, Joseph E.
Group:GALCIT, Explosion Dynamics Laboratory
Thesis Committee:
  • Shepherd, Joseph E. (chair)
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami
  • McKeon, Beverley J.
  • Blanquart, Guillaume
Defense Date:26 May 2010
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Boeing CompanyCT-BA-GTA-1
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05272010-173243262
Persistent URL:
Bane, Sally Page Moffett0000-0002-4764-3228
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5868
Deposited By: Sally Bane
Deposited On:04 Jun 2010 16:30
Last Modified:16 Jan 2021 00:13

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