The explosive limit of a gas or a vapour, is the limiting concentration (in air) that is needed for the gas to ignite and explode. There are two explosive limits for any gas or vapor, the lower explosive limit (LEL) and the upper explosive limit (UEL). At concentrations in air below the LEL there is not enough fuel to continue an explosion; at concentrations above the UEL the fuel has displaced so much air that there is not enough oxygen to begin a reaction. Concentrations of explosive gases are often given in terms of percent of lower explosive limit (%LEL).
A deflagration is a propagation of a combustion zone at a velocity less than the speed of sound in the unreacted medium. A detonation is a propagation of a combustion zone at a velocity greater than the speed of sound in the unreacted medium. An explosion is the bursting or rupture of an enclosure or container due to the development of internal pressure from a deflagration or detonation. As defined in NFPA 69.
Gases and vapours
Controlling gas and vapor concentrations outside the explosive limits is a major consideration in occupational safety and health. Methods used to control the concentration of a potentially explosive gas or vapor include use of sweep gas, an unreactive gas such as nitrogen or argon to dilute the explosive gas before coming in contact with air. Use of scrubbers or adsorption resins to remove explosive gases before release are also common. Gases can also be maintained safely at concentrations above the UEL, although a breach in the storage container can lead to explosive conditions or intense fires.
Dusts also have upper and lower explosion limits, though the upper limits are hard to measure and of little practical importance. Lower Explosion Limits for many organic materials are in the range of 10-50 g/m3, which is much higher than the limits set for health reasons, as is the case for the LEL of many gases and vapours. Dust clouds of this concentration are hard to see through for more than a short distance, and normally only exist inside process equipment.
Explosion limits also depend on the particle size of the dust involved, and are not intrinsic properties of the material. In addition, a concentration above the LEL can be created suddenly from settled dust accumulations, so management by routine monitoring, as is done with gases and vapours, is of no value. The preferred method of managing combustible dust is by preventing accumulations of settled dust through process enclosure, ventilation, and surface cleaning. However, lower explosion limits may be relevant to plant design.
The explosive limits of some gases and vapors are given below. Concentrations are given in percent by volume of air.
- David R. Lide, Editor-in-Chief; CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 72nd edition; CRC Press; Boca Raton, Florida; 1991; ISBN 0-8493-0565-9
- MSDS(Material Safety Data Sheet) from www.msdssearch.com and www.kosha.net (korea occupational safety & health agency).