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A heuristic approach of calculating spray water flux needed to avert fire-induced runaway reactions


  • First presented at the International Symposium on Runaway Reactions, Pressure Relief Design, and Effluent Handling held in Cincinnati, OH (November, 2005), CCPS, AIChE.

  • The information included in this article is based on experience and published information. The author or his employer (current or past) makes no warranties, either express or implied, as to the accuracy, reliability, appropriateness, and completeness of the information contained in this paper. The author and his employer disclaim any liability for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, or consequential damages arising out of any use of the information or reference contained herein.


In general all reactions have some heat effects. When the ability of the equipment to remove the heat is exceeded by the heat generated by a reaction, a hazardous situation called a runaway reaction may take place.

Sometimes the exothermicity of runaway reactions is so high that the size of an emergency vent becomes impractical to install. A water spray system can sometimes be used to avert a fire-induced runaway reaction.

Because the water spray system has a finite activation time, insulation helps to prolong the time required to reach the decomposition temperature.

This article concludes that the required water flux to avert the fire-induced runaway reaction may be conservatively estimated by adding the water flux necessary to maintain an unbroken water film on the external surface of the equipment and the water flux necessary to absorb the fire heat after allowing for the splash loss and the in-flight loss.

When adequate spray water is used, the metal temperature of the insulation jacket cannot theoretically exceed the boiling point of water thereby ensuring the avoidance of fire-induced runaway reactions whose adjusted onset decomposition temperature exceeds 100 ° C. Fire-induced runaway reactions with lower onset temperature can also be avoided depending on the initial temperature of the contents, mass of the contents and equipment, insulation thickness, and fire duration, for example, but a detailed calculation including dynamic simulation is necessary and the burden of proof lies with the designer.

The reliability of the spray water system must be maintained high to include its credit as an environmental factor defined according to NFPA 30 to avoid the fire-induced runaway reaction as a scenario. Although API RP 521 does not allow any credit for sprinkler water, it allows credit, unlike NFPA 30, for insulation thickness and thus a runaway reaction can be avoided by using insulation alone according to API RP 521. © 2006 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Process Saf Prog, 2006