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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Transition from Forward Smoldering to Flaming in Small Polyurethane Foam Samples

  • Author(s): Bar-Ilan, Amnon
  • Putzeys, Olivier
  • Rein, Guillermo
  • Fernandez-Pello, A. Carlos
  • Urban, David L.
  • et al.

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.

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