Buoyancy Effects on Smoldering of Polyurethane Foam
Torero, Jose L
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An experimental study has been carried out to investigate the effects of buoyancy on smoldering of polyurethane foam. The experiments are conducted with a high void fraction flexible polyurethane foam as fuel and air as oxidizer, in a geometry that approximately produces a one dimensional smolder propagation. The potential effect of buoyancy in the process is analyzed by comparing upward and downward smolder propagation through a series of normal gravity and variable gravity experiments. Both opposed and forward mixed (free and forced) flow smolder configurations are studied. In opposed smolder the oxidizer flow opposes the direction of smolder propagation, and in forward smolder both move in the same direction. Variable gravity free flow tests are also conducted in an aircraft flying a parabolic trajectories that provides low gravity periods of up to 25 sec. Measurements are performed of the smolder reaction propagation velocity and temperature as a function of the location in the sample interior, the foam and air initial temperature, the direction of propagation and the air flow velocity. This information is used in conjunction with previously developed smolder theoretical models to determine the smolder controlling mechanisms and the effect of gravity. Three zones in the fuel sample with clearly defined smolder characteristics are identified. A zone close to the igniter where smolder is affected by the external heat, a zone at the end of the sample where smolder is affected by the environment, and a zone at the end of the sample where smolder is affected by the environment, and a zone, in the middle of the foam, that is free from external effects. This last zone is the most characteristic of one dimensional, self-supported smolder, and the one that is studied in greater detail. In mixed flow convection buoyancy induced flows together with the forced flow are the primary mechanism of oxidizer transport to the reaction zone, while diffusion has a secondary importance. In natural convection, downward smoldering is of the opposed type while upward smoldering resembles more the forward type. For opposed flow smoldering, both natural and forced, the smolder propagation velocity is found to increase with the oxidizer mass flux reaching the reaction zone. This result confirms predictions from previously developed theoretical models that the smolder velocity is proportional to the oxygen mass flow. The experimental data is correlated in terms of a non-dimensional smolder velocity derived from these models, the results show very good agreement between theory and experiments for strong smolder. To implement the models, an analysis of the gas flow field is developed where the effect of significantly different permeabilities between char and foam is been Extinction is observed for very low and for very high flow rates, which shows that smolder is controlled by a sensitive competition between oxygen supply and heat losses to and from the reaction zone. Under these conditions the models do not describe the experiments well. The forward flow smolder experiments show that forward smoldering is controlled not only by the competition between oxygen supply and heat losses to and from the reaction zone but also by the competition between pyrolysis and oxidation. For low flow velocities a regime resembling the opposed flow is observed. As the air flow velocity is increased, foam pyrolysis followed by char oxidation is the controlling smolder mechanism. For both these conditions the theoretical models describe the experiments well. Increasing the flow velocity further results in a smolder propagation velocity controlled by total fuel consumption, in downward burining. For upward burning transition to flaming is observed for very high air flow velocities. This last regime is not well predicted by the theoretical models. The results from the experiments in variable gravity environment conducted in the KC-135A and Leajet airplanes confirm the normal gravity observations that the competition between heat losses and oxidizer transport is the major mechanism controlling smolder. The absence of convective flow in low gravity results in higher temperature in the unburnt fuel and char due to smaller heat losses to the surroundings. However, the oxidizer transport to the reaction zone also decreases and as a result the temperature at the reaction zone decreases indicating a weakening of the eaction, The presence of pyrolytic reactions in foward smolder and their capability to inhibit smoldering complicates the above described smolder mechanisms.