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Some industry sectors are automatically associated with explosive (Ex) atmospheres – oil and gas, petrochemical plants, mining and in particular coal mining. Many others won’t necessarily come to mind although the risk of fire and explosion exists and needs to be heeded. Food processing, sugar refineries, grain handling and storage, printing, paper and textile industries, sawmills, woodworking areas or waste treatment operations are all potential hazardous areas. Not to mention gas stations or aircraft refuelling and hangars.
The oil and gas industry sector has faced many challenges in recent years. The severe drop in oil prices has affected companies and economies throughout the world. In parallel, the need to for developed and developing countries to tackle climate change, introduce cleaner energy sources – renewables such as solar and wind, hydro – into the mix and become more energy efficient has seen some significant results when the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.
The interoperation between electrical and mechanical energies has existed for a long time. In standardization and conformity assessment, the need to provide a holistic solution to cover both is vital for industry and the community. While this may have been a given for most industries, the Ex sector has, for many years, focused exclusively on electrical equipment for its standardization and conformity assessment needs. This is no longer the case.
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) is increasingly used in locations that need constant monitoring – banks, casinos, airports, military installations or shopping malls, to name but a few. A great number of municipalities around the world have installed CCTV cameras in sensitive areas of their cities to deter criminality and monitor traffic. Many industry sectors resort to video surveillance in their manufacturing processes. And video cameras are playing a major role in the monitoring and management of explosive (Ex) areas.
Miners had learnt the hard way that their jobs were fraught with risks – fire damp, methane accumulation or suspended coal dust – when electric power was introduced. All it took to ignite methane for instance was a spark emitted by a lighting fixture or a motor. And the rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in the 20th century and the numerous accidents and explosions that occurred in oil drilling operations and refineries raised awareness of the dangers facing those working in this sector.
Batteries come in all forms and shapes and are probably the most common and widespread means of energy storage. From the AA or AAA type you buy at your local supermarket to the highly-sophisticated new generation of batteries used in smart portable devices, there are millions of products on offer. Not to forget electric vehicles (EVs). To increase their capacity and minimize their size, the batteries that power them are the focus of intense research and development throughout the world.
Contrary to preconceived ideas, hazardous areas are not the “privilege” of a few specific industry sectors. They can be found almost anywhere at any given time when certain conditions leading to the formation of an explosive atmosphere are met.
Do you realize that your local bakery may be a potentially hazardous location? In fact any area where flour, sugar, or any other type of powder is stored or processed is a potential risk area. Your kitchen as well, if you think of it, since you’re bound to regularly use a wide variety of ingredients in powder form.
Workers are increasingly mobile and a growing number of enterprises around the world provide their workforce with mobile devices such as tablets, phablets or smartphones. Moreover, many people favour tablets over laptops when traveling or doing field work. The Ex industry sector is no exception.
The dramatic incident at the Formosa Fun Coast, a water park in Taiwan, at the end of June was an extremely tragic but important reminder that dust explosions are real and that any activity that involves the use of powder or dust is potentially hazardous.
Anyone of us can be in close contact with Ex or explosive atmospheres. They are not restricted to oil refineries, offshore oil rigs, gas plants or mines. While many industries operate in potentially hazardous environments, risks are also present in transportation: gas station or aircraft refuelling zones fully qualify as Ex areas.
More than a century ago, the introduction of electrical apparatus for signalling and lighting in coal mines provoked many electrically-induced explosions of flammable gases and dust. Consequentially, specific types of protection were developed to prevent explosions by eliminating contact between an explosive atmosphere and an ignition source.
IECEx (IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for use in Explosive Atmospheres) has continued to grow in the past year. The IECEx International Conferences – in 2012 in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and in 2014 in Malaysia – have contributed to increase awareness and visibility in the Middle East and Asia. The IECEx Certified Persons Scheme, launched in late 2010, has really taken off since 2013, benefitting from the support of several majors in the oil and gas industry.
In less than 20 years, the LED (light-emitting diode) technology has emerged as an increasingly popular light source. LED-based lighting solutions, first used in commercial and industrial environment, can now be found in all kinds of environments and applications. The new generation of LED lights is more efficient, less costly, lasts longer and can be fitted in any kind of lamp or luminaire available on the market.
Batteries are probably the most common and widespread means of energy storage. From the AA or AAA type you buy at your local supermarket to the highly sophisticated new generation of batteries used in EVs (electric vehicles) or by utilities, there are millions of products on offer.
AFSEC (African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission) and IECEx (IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres) are organizing an international seminar in Lumumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on 7-8 September 2014. The event is organized in collaboration with AFREC (African Energy Commission) and OCC (Office Congolais de Contrôle), and in partnership with the Katanga mining authorities and Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, the governor of the Katanga Province.
While many countries throughout the world are integrating renewable energy sources into their energy mix, they still rely heavily on fossil fuels. According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), as primary sources of electricity generation, oil, gas and coal together account for the lion’s share (67,4%) of the world’s supply (IEA 2010).
Wherever cereals are grown in large quantities it is common to see silos used to store grain. Not so common is the knowledge that in these silos, or with any of the food processing equipment likely to be found alongside them, the thin layer of dust resulting from the processing has the potential to make a farm go up in flames.
It is important that the people working in explosive areas are competent and have the most up-to-date knowledge. Not having this knowledge could have serious repercussions, including costing live
In explosive areas, seemingly small failures can have disastrous effects. To meet the world’s ever increasing demand for energy, the oil and gas industries have built larger and more complex installations for extraction, processing and distribution, requiring increasing levels of capital investment. To protect these investments and the people working in the installations, compliance with International Standards is paramount.
A BBC News item dated 30 December 1986 announced that more than 200 canaries still employed in UK mines were to be made gradually redundant throughout 1987. The article stated that “new electronic detectors will replace the birds because they are said to be cheaper in the long run and more effective in indicating the presence of pollutants in the air otherwise unnoticed by miners.”
Offshore oil platforms, refineries, shipyards, gas and oil tankers operate 24 hours a day. Most human activities may go at a reduced pace at night but the tanker will continue to trace its route across the ocean, the rig will continue to drill or pump oil, and refineries never stop refining crude oil. Night-shift crews need powerful and reliable lighting to be able to work when it is dark. Lighting fixtures, as with any other piece of equipment or device used in hazardous areas, have to be explosion-proof.
Oil and gas refining, chemical processing, coal mining, paper and textile manufacturing, grain handling and storage, sugar refining. These are very different industrial sectors that have one thing in common. They all have hazardous areas in which flammable liquids, vapours, gases or combustible dusts present a fire or explosion hazard. The use of on-site electrical equipment just adds another spark to this dangerous mix. IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, is globally recognized as helping companies tame hazards in Ex (explosive) areas.
Potentially explosive environments are obvious terrains in which to choose to deploy robots. During the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, robotic submersibles were sent underwater to contain and ultimately cap the spill on the sea floor, where direct human intervention was impossible. But most robots used in Ex atmospheres don't operate in such difficult and extreme conditions.
China has seen huge economic changes in the past three decades. The state began to reform its economy at the end of the 1970s, shifting from a state-planned to a market economy. This move gave many industry sectors free rein to develop and grow, locally and internationally. Chinese industry is now a major player in the global market. China is also the country that has the world’s largest population.
Ex or explosive atmospheres are not restricted to oil refineries, offshore oil rigs, gas plants or mines. Many other industries also operate in potentially hazardous environments: sugar refineries, flour mills, grain silos and the paper and textile sectors, to name a few. Ex risks also exist in transportation.