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Preventing grain dust explosions

Just a little dust can create a huge fireball

 

Every now and then we hear of a tragic explosion at a grain elevator. Grain dust is highly combustible. and under the right conditions it ignites.

Carol Jones is an associate professor of stored products engineering at Oklahoma State University. She says there are three components that must be present for an explosion – dust, oxygen, and a heat source. And, the dust has to be stirred up and concentrated in the air around the heat source. It doesn't take much; a dust layer that's only one-eighth-inch-deep is enough fuel for ignition.

In large grain elevators, explosions usually happen where dust collects, such as around bearings and grain transfer points. But Jones says if the elements and conditions are all there, grain explosions can even occur on a small farm.
 
"It can happen anyplace. It's more catastrophic when it's a large facility. Once a small explosion starts, there's a vibration wave that daisy chains, and stirs up more dust. And then the shock wave from that explosion sets off another one, and then another one," says Jones. "So it can happen on a small family farm, but it's not as catastrophic because you don't have the subsequent opportunity for more explosions."

The key for preventing grain explosions is maintenance and cleanliness.

"Keeping things swept up, dusted off, use the vac, make sure all of the motors are explosion-proof. When you're doing some welding just take extra precautions to not get into areas where there's a lot of dust," says Jones. "Check bearings to make sure they're in good shape and they're not overheated, not wearing out, and binding up and causing heat. Just eliminating any heat sources that are close to the facility is really essential."

Learn more about preventing and responding to grain dust explosions

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