The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

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Fundamental Understanding of the Role of Single Molecular Oxygen in Spontaneous fires

Some chemical reactions can occur spontaneously at room temperature, leading to self-heating, ignition and fires that result in loss of life and significant damage to Australian industries. In this project, we will identify these chemical reactions, and will develop new technologies to interrupt them to avoid spontaneous fires.

AIMS: To determine the origin of the initiation reactions that set off the self-heating of wood chips, coal, milk powder and other economically-important materials, leading to spontaneous fires.

SIGNIFICANCE: This project will provide fundamental understanding of the reactions between electronically excited species of oxygen and Carbonaceous fuels, with applications to improved safety in wood, mineral and food industries.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES: Identification of the initiation mechanisms and development of mechanistic models that include the initiation step of the self-heating process.

This submission deals with identifying and mitigating initiation reactions that occur spontaneously at room temperature and lead to self-heating, ignition and fires of economically important materials. Examples include fires of coal, oily cotton rags, hay, milk powder, wood chips or shredded tires. In spite of significant cost expanded by industry and fire services to prevent and suppress spontaneous fires, and more than 150 years of research, the initiation reactions remain obscured. For example, on average, 10 % of all fires in coal mines are attributed to spontaneous ignition . In Australia, just in the underground mines of the state of New South Wales, 125 incidents of spontaneous combustion occurred over a period of thirty years . The environmental cost of CO2 emissions from low temperature oxidation of coal is equally high, corresponding to one third of all fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from some mines.

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