Detecting smouldering fires in industrial situations

Dr Jörg Kelleter of GTE tells International Fire Buyer about the company’s Adicos detection system and the applications it is used in

Tell us about the Adicos system and how it works

What we do is specialised fire detection. The aim of the Adicos system is the detection of smouldering fires in industrial environments, as early as possible. This is in line with a concept in German powerplants – they have a standard concept for fire detection. The idea is the following: First, to detect the fire as early as possible; second, to send someone to inspect the location; and third, to decide on the course of action to take – stopping a machine, or cooling something with water, for example. This will be followed by operating a semi-automatic extinguishing system, if there is one present. The actual extinguishing must, of course, be done by trained professionals on-site and the fire brigade must be called early. This is a bit different to, say, the British mindset, where extinguishing early by hand and then calling in the fire brigade is preferred.

Many smouldering fires in industrial applications, where for example gas is present or coal is being transported, start very small, and if you are able to detect them while they are still small you can react differently to how the fire brigade would. For example, you could cover the fire with a carpet or sand or use a hand fire extinguisher. Therefore it is important to have an early detection system in place, which has to be reliable. This means that in an industrial setting you usually cannot use a smoke detector, because of false alarms caused by dust. You therefore have to use an alternative system, such as gas detection or infrared. In gas detection, we look at at least three different gases: Carbon Monoxide (CO), a smouldering fire gas that occurs in all types of smouldering fires; Hydrogen, which is formed by CO reacting on hot surfaces – so it’s an indicator of heat; and certain types of hydrocarbons – gases that smell. These three gases are detected through multi-sensor variation, which allows us to distinguish between fire and non-fire situations. For example, if you have a hall where vehicles such as trucks and forklifts are present, those vehicles will be producing exhaust gases. Those gases will also contain CO and Hydrogen, and if you combine the typical pattern of CO, Hydrogen and hydrocarbons, then you can distinguish between the overall patterns of exhaust gases, smouldering fires and open flames.

This example shows that the detector should be parameterised. The user cannot just buy the detector and plug it in, but they must first understand the demands of the application, and then plug it in and calibrate it. This is what GTE, where I do development of the product, does. We develop the Adicos detectors and we do a, let’s say, start-up service. We are the developers and installers of the product, but not the installers. We partner with standard installers and planners, like Bosch and Siemens, and they take our product and install it and set it up. At the beginning of the set-up we can remotely access the product and parameterise it for the scenario it is in. We work with the customer on the basis of recorded background situations. They might say that a gas is present, but no detectors can work out exactly what gas it is. The customer might say that there are lorries or coal being transported, but we record the signals for a period of time, say two weeks, until we can define what is a background situation and what is a potential fire situation.

How long have you been working on Adicos?

We started development approximately 20 years ago in cooperation with RWE, the second largest energy company in Germany. Prototypes were made a couple of years later. In between, we had to calibrate and optimise the product to ensure a state-of-the-art detection system for German powerplants.

What are the main applications where the system is installed?

The main places are anywhere where coal is handled. Harbours, the places where the coal is transferred on belts to processing plants, silos, and so on. The next step is biomass. Wood chips and wood pellets come in from Canada, and we’ll be focusing on the same thing – belts, silos, harbours.

How would Adicos have to be adapted to be able to deal with biomass installations?

The fire gases are nearly the same. All we have to do is calibrate the background scenarios. The out-gassing of biomass is different to that of coal. The detector itself doesn’t change, but the parameterisation does. Nowadays, some power plants handle both coal and biomass, and many transport so-called ‘secondary fuel’. In more everyday terms, this is waste that has been treated somehow. In that case, we have to regard background gases due to, for example, bacteria, which activate a fermentation process in the waste. These processes release Hydrogen as well.

There are many processes that release Hydrogen in the installations we deal with. Biomass, of course, with the bacteria, but also chemical processes. If metal reacts with water and oxidises, that produces Hydrogen as well.

Would you say that Adicos is best used in dirty environments?

Dusty. We get problems if it is wet. If condensation appears then steps have to be taken to keep the detector dry. But if you have a high dust load, it is the best system. We also have a detector suitable for the ATEX Zone 20 regulation, which means it can be used in areas with explosive dust.

We have some applications where biomass is stored – the green material directly from the forest. This material may produce explosive gas, but may also produce high moisture, which may block the sensors if it condenses on its surface. In these cases, you have to heat the detector to avoid condensation.

There was a big powerplant in Tilbury near London that had a fire a few years ago, which is an ideal example of where Adicos should be used. Tilbury was a powerplant that historically used coal, but switched to using biomass. However, they didn’t adapt their fire detection programme accordingly. The reason the fire started was in fact a smouldering fire started in the silos that was ignited by a hot lamp. As a result, the powerplant is now having to be demolished. There have also been several large fires in Germany in the past ten years or so. One three-gigawatt (GW) coal-fired powerplant had a fire that resulted in energy production stopping for three whole months. This resulted in a financial loss of one million Euros per day! Later on, they showed that if the fire might have been detected early on if the powerplant had been equipped with a system like Adicos. As a consequence, nearly all coal-fired powerplants in Germany are fitted with Adicos detectors. At the moment we are looking at the British market, and are collaborating with EON at the new biomass powerplant in Ironbridge, and the new one at Forest Garden in Scotland. That one is based entirely around wood chips. They present new challenges, of course – most notably, smaller fires.

Germany is obviously your largest market, and you mention the growth in the UK, but are there any other countries you have installations in?

We are becoming increasingly common in Eastern Europe, as well as the UK and France. As I said, in the UK and France we are working with EON, who have started really looking into biomass powerplants. The reason for this is the funding for energy produced by biomass.

How do you see Adicos evolving in the future?

In the future we will still focus on coal, but we will also have to look at other fuels – biomass, recycled fuels, wood chips and so on. We will also look at other industries, for instance the cement manufacturing industry. We have a lot of storage applications – storage of wood chips, basically anywhere where there is a lot of dust. Another interesting new area is in steel production – we have had quite a lot of fires here in Germany at steel plants, especially ones that were dealing with the coke and ore.

This is something that insurance companies are interested in. If there is a lot of damage at a plant that could have been prevented, some insurers may not pay out. In fact, many recommend the Adicos product. HDI, the largest German industry insurer, and AXA, specifically mention Adicos in industrial settings.

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