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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Combustion Processes Laboratories (CPL) is the research facility in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley (USA), specializing in combustion, heat and mass transfer, and reactive systems. The Principal Investigators are Prof. Carlos Fernandez-Pello, Prof. Robert Dibble and Prof. Jyh-Yuan Chen.

Cover page of Application of Genetic Algorithms and Thermogravimetry to Determine the Kinetics of Polyurethane Foam in Smoldering Combustion

Application of Genetic Algorithms and Thermogravimetry to Determine the Kinetics of Polyurethane Foam in Smoldering Combustion


In this work, the kinetic parameters governing the thermal and oxidative degradation of flexible polyurethane foam are determined using thermogravimetric data and a genetic algorithm. These kinetic parameters are needed in the theoretical modeling of the foam’s smoldering behavior. Experimental thermogravimetric mass-loss data are used to explore the kinetics of polyurethane foam and to propose a mechanism consisting of five reactions. A lumped model of solid mass-loss based on Arrhenius-type reaction rates and the five-step mechanism is developed to predict the polyurethane thermal degradation. The predictions are compared to the thermogravimetric measurements, and using a genetic algorithm, the method finds the kinetic and stoichiometric parameters that provide the best agreement between the lumped model and the experiments. To date, no study has attempted to describe both forward and opposed smolder-propagation with the same kinetic mechanism. Thus, in order to verify that the polyurethane kinetics determined from thermogravimetric experiments can be used to describe the reactions involved in polyurethane smoldering combustion, the five-step mechanism and its kinetic parameters are incorporated into a simple species model of smoldering combustion. It is shown that the species model agrees with experimental observations and that it captures phenomenologically the spatial distribution of the different species and the reactions in the vicinity of the front, for both forward and opposed propagation. The results indicate that the kinetic scheme proposed here is the first one to describe smoldering combustion of polyurethane in both propagation modes.

Cover page of Flame Height Measurement of Laminar Inverse Diffusion Flames

Flame Height Measurement of Laminar Inverse Diffusion Flames


Flame heights of co-flowing cylindrical ethylene-air and methane-air laminar inverse diffusion flames were measured. The luminous flame height was found to be longer than the height of the reaction zone determined by planar laser-induced fluorescence (PLIF) of hydroxyl radicals (OH) because of luminous soot above the reaction zone. However, the location of the peak luminous signals along the centerline agreed very well with the OH flame height. Flame height predictions using Roper’s analysis for circular port burners agreed with measured reaction zone heights when using values for the characteristic diffusion coefficient and/or diffusion temperature somewhat different from those recommended by Roper. The fact that Roper’s analysis applies to inverse diffusion flames is evidence that inverse diffusion flames are similar in structure to normal diffusion flames.

Cover page of Transition from Forward Smoldering to Flaming in Small Polyurethane Foam Samples

Transition from Forward Smoldering to Flaming in Small Polyurethane Foam Samples


Experimental observations are presented of the effect of flow velocity, oxygen concentration, and a thermal radiant flux, on the transition from smoldering to flaming in forward smoldering of small samples of polyurethane foam with a gas/solid interface. The experiments are part of a project studying the transition from smoldering to flaming under conditions encountered in spacecraft facilities, i.e., microgravity, low velocity variable oxygen concentration flows. Because the microgravity experiments are planned for the International Space Station, the foam samples had to be limited in size for safety and launch mass reasons. The feasible sample size is too small for smolder to self propagate because of heat losses to the surroundings. Thus, the smolder propagation and the transition to flaming had to be assisted by reducing heat losses to the surroundings and increasing the oxygen concentration. The experiments are conducted with small parallelepiped samples vertically placed in a wind tunnel. Three of the sample lateral-sides are maintained at elevated temperature and the fourth side is exposed to an upward flow and a radiant flux. It is found that decreasing the flow velocity and increasing its oxygen concentration, and/or increasing the radiant flux enhances the transition to flaming, and reduces the time delay to transition. Limiting external conditions for the transition to flaming are reported for this experimental configuration. The results show that smolder propagation and transition to flaming can occur in relatively small fuel samples if the external conditions are appropriate. The results also indicate that transition to flaming occurs in the char region left behind by the smolder reaction, and it has the characteristics of a gas-phase ignition induced by the smolder reaction, which acts as the source of both gaseous fuel and heat. A simplified energy balance analysis is able to predict the boundaries between the transition/no transition regions.

Cover page of Modeling of One-Dimensional Smoldering of Polyurethane in Microgravity Conditions

Modeling of One-Dimensional Smoldering of Polyurethane in Microgravity Conditions


Results are presented from a model of forward smoldering combustion of polyurethane foam in microgravity. The transient one-dimensional numerical-model is based on that developed at the University of Texas at Austin. The conservation equations of energy, species and mass in the porous solid and in the gas phases are numerically solved. The solid and the gas phase are not assumed to be in thermal or in chemical equilibrium. The chemical reactions modeled consist of foam oxidation and pyrolysis reactions, as well as char oxidation. The model has been modified to account for new polyurethane kinetics parameters and radial heat losses to the surrounding environment. The kinetics parameters are extracted from thermogravimetric analyses published in the literature and using Genetic Algorithms as the optimization technique. The model results are compared with previous tests of forward smoldering combustion in microgravity conducted aboard the NASA Space Shuttle. The model calculates well the propagation velocities and the overall smoldering characteristics. Direct comparison of the solution with the experimental temperature profiles shows that the model predicts well these profiles at high temperature, but not as well at lower temperatures. The effect of inlet gas velocity is examined and the minimum airflow for ignition identified. It is remarkable that this one-dimensional model with simplified kinetics is capable of predicting cases of smolder ignition but with no self-propagation away from the igniter region. The model is used for better understanding of the controlling mechanisms of smolder combustion for the purpose of fire safety, both in microgravity and normal gravity, and to extend the unique microgravity data to wider conditions avoiding the high cost of space-based experiments.

Cover page of The effect of buoyancy on opposed smoldering

The effect of buoyancy on opposed smoldering


An experimental investigation on the effects of buoyancy on opposed-flow smolder is presented. Tests were conducted on cylindrical samples of open-cell, unretarded polyurethane foams at a range of ambient pressures using the Microgravity Smoldering Combustion (MSC) experimental apparatus. The samples were tested in the opposed configuration, in which the flow of oxidizer is induced in the opposite direction of the propagation of the Smolder front. These data were compared with opposed-forced-flow tests conducted aboard STS-69, STS-77, and STS-105 and their ground-based simulations. Thermal measurements were made of the smolder reaction to obtain peak reaction temperatures and smolder velocities as a function of the ambient pressure in the MSC chamber. The smolder reaction was also observed using high-frequency ultrasound pulses as part of the ultrasound imaging system (UIS). The UIS measurements were used Lis a second means of providing smolder propagation velocities Lis well as to obtain permeabilities of the reacting samples. Results of forced-flow testing in normal gravity were compared to results in microgravity at a range of ambient pressures and forced flows. Results indicate that a critical oxidizer mass flux of roughly 0.5 to 0.8 g/m(2)s is required in normal gravity for a self-sustaining propagation in this configuration. In microgravity tests, self-sustained smolder propagation Was observed at a significantly lower oxidizer mass flux of 0.30g/m(2)s. Analysis Suggests that the removal of buoyancy-induced heat losses in microgravity allows for self-sustained propagation at an oxidizer mass flux below file critical value observed in normal-gravity testing. Normal-gravity tests also show that the smolder propagation velocity is linearly dependent oil the total oxidizer mass flux in an oxidizer-limited regime. Pressure effects on the chemical kinetics of a smolder reaction are interred by comparison of normal-gravity and microgravity tests and believed to be only weakly dependent oil Pressure (similar top(1/3)).

Cover page of Forced forward smoldering experiments in microgravity

Forced forward smoldering experiments in microgravity


Results from two forward forced-flow smolder tests on polyurethane foam using air as oxidizer conducted aboard the NASA Space Shuttle (STS-105 and STS-108 missions) are presented in this work. The two tests provide the only presently available forward smolder data in microgravity. A complimentary series of ground-based tests were also conducted to determine, by comparison with the microgravity data, the effect of gravity on the forward smolder propagation. The objective of the study is to provide a better understanding of the controlling mechanisms of smolder for the purpose of control and prevention, both in normal- and microgravity. The data consists of temperature histories from thermocouples placed at various axial locations along the fuel sample centerline, and of permeability histories obtained from ultrasonic transducer pairs also located at various axial positions in the fuel sample. A comparison of the tests conducted in normal- and microgravity indicates that smolder propagation velocities are higher in microgravity than in normal gravity, and that there is a greater tendency for a transition to flame in microgravity than in normal gravity. This is due primarily to the reduced heat losses in the microgravity environment, leading to increased char oxidation. This observation is confirmed through a simplified one-dimensional model of the forward smolder propagation. This finding has important implications from the point of view of fire safety in a space-based environment, since smolder can often occur in the forward mode and potentially lead to a smolder-initiated fire. (C) 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Cover page of A Comparison of Three Fire Models in the Simulation of Accidental Fires

A Comparison of Three Fire Models in the Simulation of Accidental Fires


The assumptions and the results of applying three fire modeling approaches to study three accidental fires that occurred in single-family dwellings, are presented in this work. The modeling approaches used are: a simplified analytical model of fire growth, a zone model (CFAST) and a field model (FDS). The fires predicted are: a house fire of suspected initial location but of unknown ignition source, a small-apartment fire initiated by the ignition of a sofa which extinguished due to oxygen depletion, and a one-story house fire started by a malfunctioning gas heater. The input to each model has been kept as independent as possible from the other models while consistent with the forensic evidences. The predictions from the models of the fires’ characteristics are analyzed in the context of the forensic evidences for each accidental fire to compare the models’ predictive capabilities. It is found that in spite of the differences in the sophistication of these three modeling approaches, the results were in relatively good agreement, particularly in the early stages of the fire. Simpler models can be used as a first step towards less approximate modelling or to confirm the order of magnitude of the results from more complex models. The results of this work can be used to reach conclusions about the complexity of the model required to describe a particular fire scenario.

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Cover page of Investigation of HCCI Combustion of Diethyl Ether and Ethanol Mixtures Using Carbon 14 Tracing and Numerical Simulations

Investigation of HCCI Combustion of Diethyl Ether and Ethanol Mixtures Using Carbon 14 Tracing and Numerical Simulations


Despite the rapid combustion typically experienced in Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI), components in fuel mixtures do not ignite in unison or burn equally. In our experiments and modeling of blends of diethyl ether (DEE) and ethanol (EtOH), the DEE led combustion and proceeded further toward completion, as indicated by 14C isotope tracing. A numerical model of HCCI combustion of DEE and EtOH mixtures supports the isotopic findings. Although both approaches lacked information on incompletely combusted intermediates plentiful in HCCI emissions, the numerical model and 14C tracing data agreed within the limitations of the single zone model. Despite the fact that DEE is more reactive than EtOH in HCCI engines, they are sufficiently similar that we did not observe a large elongation of energy release or significant reduction in inlet temperature required for light-off, both desired effects for the combustion event. This finding suggests that, in general, HCCI combustion of fuel blends may have preferential combustion of some of the blend components.

Cover page of An enthalpy-temperature hybrid method for solving phase change problems and its application to polymer pyrolysis and ignition

An enthalpy-temperature hybrid method for solving phase change problems and its application to polymer pyrolysis and ignition


In this work, an enthalpy-temperature hybrid method is proposed for the numerical solution of generalized phase change problems, and applied to the prediction of polymer pyrolysis and ignition. The basic idea of this method is to treat both enthalpy and temperature as independent variables, and to solve the conservation equations and the constitutive equations (enthalpy-temperature relations) simultaneously. The formula of the enthalpy-temperature relations are not necessary the same for different phases, but can be chosen independently according to the characteristics of physical problems and the convenience of numerical analysis for each respective phase. Therefore this method applies to the problems regardless of the form of the constitutive equations. It overcomes the difficulty or even impossibility encountered in the traditional enthalpy-temperature method, of which either enthalpy or temperature must be consistently and explicitly expressed as a function of the other over all the phases. The method is first applied to a one-dimensional classical freezing problem for method demonstration and verification. It is found that the numerical results of temperature history and the position of phase change interface agree well with the analytic solution existing in the literature. The method is then applied to the numerical simulation of the pyrolysis and ignition of a composite material with a polymer as the matrix and fiberglass as the filling material. Three models of oxygen distribution in the molten layer are considered to explore the melting and oxygen effects on the polymer pyrolysis. Numerical calculation shows that high oxygen concentrations in the molten layer enhance the pyrolysis reaction, resulting in a larger amount of pyrolysate, but in lower surface temperatures of the sample. It also shows that distribution of oxygen in the molten layer has a strong effect on pyrolysate rate, and therefore on ignition and combustion of polymers. Comparison with available experimental data indicates that a model of oxygen distribution in the molten layer that is limited to a thin layer near the surface describes best the ignition process for a homogeneously blended polypropylene/fiberglass composite.




Experiments have been conducted to study the ignition of both forward and opposed smolder of a high void fraction, flexible, polyurethane foam in a forced oxidizer flow. Tests are conducted in a small scale, vertically oriented, combustion chamber with supporting instrumentation. An electrically heated Nichrome wire heater placed between two porous ceramic disks, one of which is in complete contact with the foam surface, is used to supply the necessary power to ignite and sustain a smolder reaction. The gaseous oxidizer, metered via mass flow controllers, is forced through the foam and heater. A constant power is applied to the igniter for a given period of time and the resulting smolder is monitored to determine if smolder is sustained without the assistance of the heater, in which case smolder ignition is considered achieved. Reaction zone temperature and smolder propagation velocities are obtained from the temperature histories of thermocouples embedded at predetermined positions in the foam with junctions placed along the fuel centerline. Tests are conducted with oxygen mass fractions ranging from 0.109 to 1.0 at a velocity of 0.1 mm/s during the ignition period, and 0.7 or 3.0 mm/s during the self-sustained propagation period. The results show a well defined smolder ignition regime primarily determined by two parameters: igniter heat flux, and the time the igniter is powered. These two parameters determine a minimum igniter/foam temperature, and a minimum depth of smolder propagation (char), which are conditions required for ignition to occur. The former is needed to establish a strong smolder reaction, and the latter to reduce heat losses from the incipient smolder reaction to the surrounding environment. The ignition regime is shifted to shorter times for a given igniter heat flux with increasing oxygen mass fraction. A model based on concepts similar to those developed to describe the ignition of solid fuels has been developed that describes well the experimental ignition results.