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Fluids/Solids Handling

Picking Dry-Type
Flame Arresters
Stanley S. Grossel,
Process Safety & Design, Inc.

lame arresters prevent the propagation of a


flame front from outside of a storage tank or
process vessel to the inside, or of a flame between interconnected items of equipment. This
article is based on a recent book by the author published by
AIChEs Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) that
covers a wide range of topics on flame arresters (see sidebar). Here, we will look at the major dry types available
and their general uses. These devices employ a medium,
known as the matrix, inside a casing that extinguishes the
flame and, when appropriate, stops a shock wave from a
detonation. Typical media are crimped-metal-ribbon, expanded metal and parallel plates. There are also proprietary
dry-type aressters, as well as other types of flame arresters
that do not contain a matrix; these find service where conventional dry types are not suitable or expensive. Among
these are hydraulic (liquid-seal) and packed-bed arresters,
velocity flame stoppers, high-velocity vent-valves, and
conservation vent-valves. Space does not permit discussing
these other types here, but the book covers them in detail.

Classification schemes for dry types


There are various ways to classify dry-type arresters:
Deflagration vs. detonation models
Direction of flame approach for which the arrester is designed to operate in a pipe. The pipe that connects the arrester with an identified ignition source is known as the unprotected side of the arrester. The pipe connecting the arrester to at-risk equipment that must be protected from flame
penetration is the protected side.

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Courtesy Westech Industrial Ltd.

Dont Get
Burned

These commonly used devices


rely on an internal medium to
extinguish flame fronts and take
the punch out of shock waves,
protecting piping and equipment,
as well as personnel. Selecting
such equipment involves
considering the probable type
of combustion, placement
in the plant and other factors.
The number of directions that an arrester may encounter a flame. If it is from only one direction, then the
device is unidirectional; if from either direction, a bidirectional arrester is needed. The latter is either symmetrically
constructed or has been tested and certified for deflagrations or detonations approaching from either direction.
Back-to-back use of unidirectional flame arresters is generally not cost-effective.
Flame arresters are also grouped according to certain
characteristics and operational principles, by their process
location, combustion conditions, or arrester matrix.

Process location
When an arrester is located directly on a vessel or tank
vent-nozzle, or on the end of a vent line from the ventnozzle, it is called an end-of-line arrester, and usually is

Deflagration and Detonation Flame Arresters


by Stanley S. Grossel
Published by AIChES Center for Chemical Process Safety
The book is written for chemical engineers and other technical personnel involved in
the design, operation and maintenance of facilities and equipment where deflagration
and detonation flame arresters (DDFAs) may be required. It covers a broad range of issues concerning the operation, selection, installation and maintenance of DDFAs, including an overview of deflagration and detonation prevention and protection practices; an overview of combustion and flame propagation and how DDFAs halt propagation; deflagration and detonation flame arrester technology; installation in process
systems; regulations, codes and standards; illustrative examples, calculations and
guidelines for DDFA selection; appendices, including a glossary, a flame-arrester specification sheet for vendor quotation, and a listing of flame arrester manufacturers.
To order: Call (800) 242-4363; Fax: (301) 843-0159; outside the U.S.: (301) 374-2522;
E-mail: xpress@aiche.org. For a complete listing of AIChEs publications, see
www.aiche.org/pubcat/.

installed to stop deflagrations. These devices are commonly installed on atmospheric-pressure storage tanks, process
vessels and transport containers. If the vented vapors are
ignited accidentally, say by lightning, then the arrester will
prevent the flame from spreading to the inside of the vessel. Such flame arresters do not stop detonations. End-ofline flame arresters can be placed on vessels or tanks located inside buildings (Figure 1a) and outdoors as well
(Figure 1b).
If the arrester is not connected to the end of a line, then it
can be placed in-line. Such arresters can be built to withstand
deflagrations or detonations (if properly designed for these
more-extreme conditions), depending on the length of pipe
and pipe configuration on the unprotected side of the arrester,
and any restrictions on the protected side (e.g., the inclusion
of valves or elbows). A detonation flame arrester is used
where the run-up distance (that from the source to the arrester) is sufficient for a detonation to develop.
Some in-line deflagration flame arresters are called
pipe-away or vent-line arresters. These are also installed
on the vent-nozzles of atmospheric-pressure tanks and vessels, but have a short length of pipe attached to them to direct the vapors, and possibly flames, away from the tank or
vessel roof (Figure 2).
The maximum length of pipe from the discharge side to
the atmosphere is usually 20 ft for Group D gases, and is a
function of the pipe size and the manufacturers design. For
other gases (Group B or Group C), the maximum distance
must be established by proper testing with the gas mixture
and pipe diameter. The groups are established by the National Electrical Code (NEC) of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) (1). Typical Group B gases include
butadiene and ethylene oxide, as well as gases that contain

more than 30% of hydrogen by volume, among others.


Those in Group C include ethylene, ethyl ether and other
gases of equivalent hazard. Typical Group D gases include
methane and other alkanes, alcohols, benzene and acetone.
In establishing how arresters can be used safely with certain gases, if turbulence-promoting devices (bends, elbows,
tees, valves, etc.) will be present in the actual plant, then
they must be included in the test setup. During the test, the
turbulence promoters must be placed using the exact geometry of a specific installation. It is essential to ensure that
run-ups to detonations cannot occur in an actual system. For
some fast-burning gases, such as hydrogen/air mixtures, the
run-up distance can be appreciably less than the 20-ft limit
End-of-line
Deflagration
Arrester

Roof

Weather Hood
End-of-line
Deflagration
Arrester

a. Installation on vent line


from indoor vessel

b. Installation on vent line


from outdoor tank

Figure 1. End-of-line arresters are used with indoor and outdoor tanks
and vessels.

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Fluids/Solids Handling

Detonation flame arresters withstand and extinguish


high-speed, high-pressure flame fronts. Therefore, these
devices must be able to resist the mechanical effects of detonation shock waves while quenching the flames. Some
designs have a shock absorber in front of the flame-arresting element to lessen the effect of the high-pressure wave
and its dynamic energy, and to split the front before it
In-line Deflagration
reaches the arrester element.
Flame Arrester
Detonations in piping have velocities of about 6,000
ft/s or more, and, in closed process vessels and equipment,
can generate pressures from 20100+ times the initial
value. When installed in a vent-manifold, these arresters
Storage Tank
on the tanks can be uni- or bidirectional, depending upon
the manufacturers recommendations. Detonation arresters
preferably should be installed vertically, so if liquid is pre Figure 2. In-line deflagration arrester has a short pipe to direct vapors or
sent, the arrester will drain. If they must be installed horiflames from the tank roof.
zontally, drain connections are
needed. Most detonation arresters
Detonation Flame
Emergency Vent
Common Piping
have crimped-metal-ribbon eleArrester
to Atmosphere
Header
ments, although expanded-metal
(Bidirectional)
cartridges are also used. Detonation arrester elements are usually
Central VaporProcessing
longer than the elements used for
Unit (Flare,
deflagration arresters.
Scrubber, etc.)
Some cases have been reported
where a detonation arrester failed to
stop a deflagration (2). This occurs
when there is a restriction (e.g., a
valve) on the protected side of the
Manifold
device. Roussakis and Lapp (3) prePiping
sent test data on three types of inline flame arresters that corroborate
Detonation Flame
this seemingly anomalous behavior.
Arrester (Unidirectional
The causes are complex and depend
or Bidirectional)
on such factors as the effect of runup length on the relative overpres Figure 3. Detonation arresters help to ensure safety of a vent-manifold system.
sure (the ratio of the pressure rise
caused by the flame front to the abfor Group D gases. In all cases, consult the manufacturer
solute operating pressure at the time of ignition), flow refor the recommended maximum run-up length.
striction on the protected side, and the absolute operating
An in-line detonation flame arrester must be used wherpressure. The flame-quenching capability of a flame arrester
ever a detonation may occur. This is always a strong possiis determined by the initial operating pressure. The new
bility in vent-manifold (vapor-collection) systems, where
CCPS book previously mentioned explains this seemingly
long pipe-runs provide sufficient distances for a deflagraanomalous behavior.
tion-to-detonation (DTD) transition to occur. Figure 3
Regulations and requirements
shows a typical installation of in-line detonation arresters
in a vent-manifold system.
There are no regulations or other legal requirements for
installing flame arresters in vapor-collection (vent-maniCombustion conditions
fold) systems in chemical and petrochemical plants. HowDeflagration arresters on tanks normally cannot withever, many chemical companies follow the U.S. Coast
stand significant internal pressure and cannot stop detonaGuard regulations as a guide.
tions. Typical flame speeds of a deflagration in pipes range
The installation of flame arresters should be considered
from 10200 ft/s. Deflagrations of fuel/air mixtures usually
for vacuum pumps, activated-carbon adsorbers, and other
generate pressures of 812 times the initial pressure in
equipment that emits flammable vapors and/or can serve as
closed process vessels and equipment.
an ignition source.
Vent Piping

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Matrix constructions for dry arresters


Dry-type deflagration and detonation arresters have an
internal arrester element that quenches the flame and cools
the products of combustion. There are many types of arrester elements. The most common are crimped-metal-ribbon, parallel-plate, expanded-metal-cartridge, perforatedplate, wire-gauze (and wire-gauze in packs), sinteredmetal, metal-shot in small housings, and ceramic balls.
Some of these arresting elements are often used in both deflagration and detonation arresters. Compressed wire-wool
flame arresters are available in the U.K., but are not sold
commercially in the U.S.
Crimped-metal-ribbon (CMR)
This element is one of the most widely used types, especially for detonation flame arresters (Figure 4). CMR arresters are made of alternating layers of thin, corrugated
metal ribbons and flat metal ribbons of the same width,
which are wound together on a mandrel to form a manylayered cylinder of the desired diameter. The thickness of
the cylindrical element is equal to the ribbon width. The
spaces between the corrugations and the flat ribbon provide
multiple small gas passages of approximately triangular
shape. Elements can be made in a variety of crimp heights,
ribbon and element thicknesses, and diameters.
Some major advantages are: (1) they can be manufactured to within close tolerances; (2) they are sufficiently robust to withstand mechanical and thermal shocks; and (3)
they have a fairly low resistance to flow (pressure drop) because usually only about 20% of the face (cross-sectional
area) of the arrester is obstructed by the ribbon. The layers
of ribbon must not spring apart because this would increase
the crimp height and render the device ineffective. Since
effectiveness in quenching a flame diminishes rapidly with
thin arresters, the elements should be at least 0.5 in. thick.
One manufacturer produces a composite design consisting
of multiple CMR elements with diverter shields (turbulence-inducing devices) between the elements.
CMR elements can be made circular, rectangular or
square, depending upon the shape of the pipe or housing.
The elements are often reinforced by inserting metal rods
radially through the assembly. CMR arresters may use single or multiple elements with the crimp perpendicular to
the ribbon. Newer designs include deflectors between element sections to redistribute flow.
A drawback of CMR arrester elements is their sensitivity
to damage during handling. This must be considered during
maintenance. Damage may lead to either enlarged channels
that allow flame penetration, or to channel collapse that increases the pressure drop. Therefore, the manufacturers instructions should be strictly followed during maintenance
and cleaning. Another possible problem is that the small
channel size may make the elements more susceptible to
fouling due to solids deposition, and regularly scheduled or
predictive maintenance is essential when this is possible.

Element Diameter

Crimped Ribbon
Flat Ribbon

Element Thickness
(Ribbon Width)

Figure 4. Crimped-metal ribbon flame arresters are widely used to


stop detonations.

CMR elements are installed in housings in two ways. In


one method, the element can be removable, in which case
it can be cleaned and reinstalled or replaced without taking
the housing from the piping. In the other method, the element is fused to the housing. Thus, the entire unit must be
removed from the pipe to clean the element. If the element
is damaged, the unit must be replaced. Many test protocols
(e.g., those of the U.S. Coast Guard and Factory Mutual)
will not approve this type of element.
CMR arresters are used to stop deflagrations and detonations. They are especially useful for detonations, since
the apertures can be made small, which is necessary to stop
the flame and pressure front.

Parallel-plate
Parallel-plate elements are used in both end-of-line and
in-line (vent-line) deflagration arresters (Figure 5). They are
not used as detonation arresters, however. These devices
contain solid metal plates or rings arranged edgewise to the
gas flow and separated from each other by a small spacing.
Figure 5. Parallel
plate arresters are
relatively robust,
inexpensive and easy
to dismantle.

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Fluids/Solids Handling

Figure 6. Expanded-metal cartridge flame arresters are suited for use with
reactive monomers.

The spacing is maintained by gaskets or nubs on the plates.


Parallel-plate devices are relatively inexpensive, robust and
readily dismantled for cleaning. Their main disadvantage is
their weight, especially in large sizes with housings made of
steel or stainless steel. Heavy units may require independent support when mounted on a tank nozzle.

Expanded-metal cartridge (EMC)


EMC elements are comprised of a sheet of expanded metal
that is wrapped similarly to a cartridge filter element (Figure 6).
Diamond-shaped openings in the sheet are not aligned during
wrapping, so that there is no direct path from one layer to the
next. Such a design tends to reduce the incidence of plugging
by suspended solids, since they will not be heavily deposited on
the inlet face. The elements are normally offset, rather than inline, to the gas flow so that the flame passes radially toward the
cartridge axis. This creates a relatively large inlet surface area
that further reduces plugging problems. Another advantage is
that liquids and solids drop out into an external container that
surrounds the inlet. This may make these units suitable for use
with reactive monomers. Disadvantages include support problems for larger pipe diameters due to their size and weight, so,
often, EMCs must be located at or near grade to facilitate maintenance. These arresters are suited for deflagration and detonation, and are designed for bidirectional flow.
EMC elements are manufactured in different configurations. One is a cylinder that fits into a housing with offset
inlet and outlet connections. Another is a thimble shape
that is welded to a flange for insertion in an in-line,
straight-through housing.
Perforated-plate
These elements are used primarily for deflagration arresters (Figure 7a). The perforated plates are usually metal
(stainless steel), but some also incorporate perforated refractory disks and gauze pads in combination with the
metal plates. They are available with a range of hole diameters and plate thicknesses, but the most-common devices
have hole diameters and plate thicknesses analogous to the
corresponding dimensions of coarse-gauze arresters. Perforated-metal arresters have greater mechanical strength and
are less likely to overheat than gauze arresting elements,
but the percentage of the plate area available for gas flow is
even less than that for the corresponding gauzes (4).

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Wire gauze
These arresters use either single gauzes, or a series or
pack of gauzes (Figure 7b). They are manufactured such
that the aperture size is carefully controlled. Single layers
offer limited performance. Gauzes coarser than 28 mesh to
the linear inch are ineffective at quenching a flame, and
those finer than 60 mesh to the linear inch are liable to become blocked. The main advantages of gauzes are their
low cost, ready availability and ease of fitting. Their disadvantages include limited effectiveness at quenching highvelocity flames, the ease with which they are damaged, and
the high pressure drop of gases through fine gauzes.
Gauzes can be combined into multiple-layer packs, and if
the gauzes are all of the same mesh width, they are more effective than single constructions. However, the increase in effectiveness is limited. Combined packs of a coarse and fine
mesh are less effective than the fine gauze alone. A disadvantage of gauze packs is that the good contact required between
gauze layers may be difficult to guarantee in practice without
fusing and calendering (4). Since gauzes have limited effectiveness in quenching high-velocity flames, they are only
used as end-of-line deflagration flame arresters.
Sintered metal
Sintered metal (Figure 7c) is effective as an arresting element, but it offers a high resistance to gas flow, and is
suitable only when the gas flow is low or high pressure is
available (e.g., on a compressor discharge line). Banks of
sintered-metal flame arresters can be installed in parallel to
offset the pressure-drop problem. Their small apertures
tend to block easily, so these flame arresters should only be
used with clean gases. One advantage is that they can be
produced in a variety of shapes to suit various applications.
How they are mounted is critical because the clearance between the arresting element and the housing must be less
than the arrester passage dimensions (2). If a flame stabilizes on the surface of these elements, there is a risk that it
will eventually burn its way through the sintered-metal
disk. For this reason, these arresters may incorporate a
pressure- or temperature-activated flow cutoff-device.
The apertures can be made so small that these arresters
are able to quench detonations, provided that they have
sufficient mechanical strength. Care is required to ensure a
secure anchorage of the sintered element to prevent leakage around it caused by the impact of a shock wave (4).
The main uses of these arresters are in the sensing heads
of flammable-gas detectors and in flame arresters for gas
welding (oxy-acetylene) equipment.
Ceramic balls
In these devices, ceramic (alumina) balls are housed between stainless-steel grids (Figure 7d). These arresters
have been tested for NEC Groups C and D gases, as well
as for hydrogen. They have also been accepted by the U.S.
Coast Guard. The ceramic balls are claimed to be cleaned

Cell Housing

a. Perforated Plate

Heat Absorption into


Alumina Ceramic Media

b. Wire Gauze and Gauze Packs

Figure 7. Four other


types of matrixes used in
dry-type arresters.

Protected
Side
d. Ceramic Balls

c. Sintered Metal

easily and totally resistant to oxidation and corrosion. Also,


the balls will withstand severe flame stabilizations without
suffering any deterioration.

Metal shot
Metal-shot arresters consist of a tower or housing filled
with various sizes of metal shot (balls) in about nine zones.
The size varies from 47 mesh for the largest balls and
from 4060 mesh for the smallest ones. The larger balls are
arranged in the outer layers of a zone with the smaller shot
in the inner layers. A typical unit is 6 in. O.D. 15 in.
long, with 3/4-in. connections. The size of the apertures
depends on the diameter of the shot, which is packed tight-

Literature Cited
1. National Electrical Code, NFPA 70, National Fire Protection Association, Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA (www.nfpa.ord/catalog/
product.asp?category%5Fname=&pid=7099sb) (1999).
2. Howard, W. B., Flame Arresters and Flashback Preventers,
Plant/Operations Progress, 1 (4), pp. 203208 (Oct. 1982).
3. Roussakis, N., and L. Lapp, A Comprehensive Test Method for
Inline Flame Arresters, Plant/Operations Progress, 10 (2), pp.
8592 (Apr. 1991).
4. Health and Safety Executive, Flame Arresters and Explosion
Vents, Health and Safety Series Booklet HS(G)11, HSE, London,
U.K. (1980).

Flame
Front

ly together within the container to prevent movement. One


advantage of this flame arrester is its ease of assembly and
disassembly for cleaning. Another is that it can be made
sufficiently robust to withstand detonations. One design
using nickel shot contained in a thick-walled housing successfully stops acetylene detonations at initial pressures
from 15 to 400 psig.
The disadvantages include their weight and relatively
high resistance to gas flow. In addition, the size of the apertures is not controlled directly. Movement of the balls during a deflagration or detonation can lead to failure of the
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device (4).
STANLEY S. GROSSEL is president of Process Safety & Design, Inc. (41 Sussex
Road, Clifton, NJ 07012-2016; Phone and Fax: (973) 779-8579; E-mail:
psadi28@aol.com). He consults in process safety, loss prevention, solids
handling and processing, air-pollution control and batch-process design.
Grossel has 52 years of experience in process design and application of
safety and loss prevention for pharmaceutical, organic, inorganic and
petrochemical plants. Previous employers include Hoffmann-LaRoche, The
Lummus Co., and Chemical Construction Corp. He has been a Fellow of
AIChE since 1980 and received the Safety and Health Div. Norton
Walton/Russell Miller Award for outstanding contributions to loss
prevention. He is a past chair of that division, is currently active in AIChE
committee work, and lectures and writes publications for the Institute.
Grossel holds bachelors and masters degrees in chemical engineering
from the City College of New York and the Polytechnic Institute of
Brooklyn, respectively. He is also a member of ACS, NFPA, CMA (now the
American Chemistry Council), the National Association of Manufacturers
and the Combustion Institute.

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