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Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

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Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/etfs

Experimental studies on the thermal stratication and its inuence on BLEVEs


Wensheng Lin *, Yanwu Gong, Ting Gao, Anzhong Gu, Xuesheng Lu
Institute of Refrigeration and Cryogenics, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, China

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 7 February 2010
Accepted 9 March 2010

Keywords:
Stratication
BLEVE
LPG
Depressurization

a b s t r a c t
The thermal stratication of Liqueed Petroleum Gas (LPG) and its effect on the occurrence of the boiling
liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) have been investigated experimentally. Stratications in liquid
and vapor occur when the LPG tank is heated. The degree of the liquid stratication b increases with an
increasing heat ux and decreasing lling ratio. The effect of stratication on the BLEVE has been examined with depressurization tests of LPG. The results show that the pressure recovery for the stratied LPG
(b = 1.4) upon sudden depressurization is much lower than that for the isothermal LPG (b = 1). It can be
concluded that the liquid stratication decreases the liquid energy and the occurrence of the BLEVE.
2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
The boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE) is a catastrophic accident resulting from explosive ash of pressure-liqueed gas (PLG) out of the tank induced by re. When a tank carrying
PLG is subjected to re impingement, the liquid near the wall heats
up and rises to the top. The pressure in the tank will be higher than
that calculated by the average liquid temperature because the top
liquid dominates the pressure. When the pressure reaches the set
value, as shown in Fig. 1 (t0t1), the safety relief valve opens to release the liquid. The upper warmest liquid ows off till the liquid in
the tank becomes isothermal. The relief valve is venting at its maximum rate to maintain the tank pressure at or near the relief
valves full-open pressure, as illustrated in Fig. 1 (t1t2). At the
same time, the strength of the tank wall heated by re decreases.
When the wall strength cannot withstand the internal pressure,
the tank fails and PLG ashes explosively, which may lead to the
BLEVE as depicted by line 1 in Fig. 1 (t2t3) [1,2]. However, sometimes the tank wall is so thin that a BLEVE takes place before the
safety relief valve opens to destratify liquid, as depicted by line 2
in Fig. 1.
The energy of PLG is one of the signicant parameters for the
occurrence of the BLEVE. There are a lot of studies on the thermal
response of PLG in tanks impinged by re. Specically, Chen et al.
[3] developed a computer model to determine the thermal response of horizontal LPG tanks involved in re engulfment accidents. Yu et al. [4] used an integral approach to investigate the
development of the free convection boundary layer on a heated
concave surface. Hadjisophocleous et al. [5] employed eld and
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 21 34206533; fax: +86 21 34206814.
E-mail address: linwsh@sjtu.edu.cn (W. Lin).
0894-1777/$ - see front matter 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.expthermusci.2010.03.001

zone modeling techniques to study the behaviour of LPG tank


and to predict the time for valve opening. Van den Berg et al.
[6,7] presented a method to calculate the blast effects originating
from an exploding vessel of liqueed gas. Pinhasi et al. [8] developed a 1D plane numerical model to estimate the thermodynamic
and the dynamic state of the boiling liquid during a BLEVE event.
Abbasi and Abbasi [9] described an attempt to develop a framework with which superheat limit temperature (SLT) of new substances can be theoretically determined with fair degree of
condence. Their results also showed that the tank response was
signicantly affected by the degree of re engulfment.
The mechanism of the BLEVE has been studied experimentally
by some researchers as well. For example, Birk and Cunningham
[10] investigated the reason why certain ruptures lead to a BLEVE
rather than a jet-type release. The effects of the liquid temperature
and the lling ratio on the BLEVE process were also analyzed by
them. The inuence of vent device on the prevention of BLEVEs
was discussed by Sheboko et al. [11]. The failure mode of the vessel
and the effect of its thermo-hydraulic state on the BLEVE process
were demonstrated experimentally by Venart et al. [12]. Detailed
data on the thermal response of two 500 gal ASME code propane
tanks which were partly (25%) engulfed in a hydrocarbon re were
presented by Birk et al. [13]. Stawczyk et al. [14] described experiments with explosions of small LPG tanks, by which the dynamics
of the process was learned and the hazard factors were determined. Birk et al. [15] claimed that the liquid energy content did
not contribute to the shock overpressures in the near or far eld
by medium scale BLEVE tests. Chen et al. [16] developed a smallscale experiment to investigate the possible processes that could
lead to a BLEVE, and the results suggested that the swelling of
the two-phase layer was the possible reason for the rst over-pressure at the top and bottom of the vessel.

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W. Lin et al. / Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

Nomenclature
cross area of the tank (m2)
specic heat (kJ kg1 K1)
diameter of orice (m)
the fraction of liquid ash ()
height (m)
specic heat ratio ()
mass (kg)
pressure (Pa)
energy (kJ)
time (s)
temperature (K)
volume (m3)
equivalent of TNT (kg)

A
c
D
f
h
k
m
P
Q
t
T
V
W

distance (m)

Greek letters
b
the degree of liquid stratication ()
q
density (kg m3)
Subscripts
atm
atmosphere
L
liquid
p
pressure
sat
saturation
V
vapor
w
wall

C p T 0 T B
;
Dhv

However, the inuence of the liquid stratication on BLEVEs has


seldom been studied so far. The main purpose of this work is to
investigate experimentally the liquid stratication and its effect
on the pressure recovery that may lead to BLEVEs. First, the stratication of LPG heated by an electric heater is examined. Next, the
inuence of the depressurization on the temperature stratication
is discussed. Finally, the depressurization tests for the stratied
and the isothermal LPGs have been carried out to reveal the inuencing principle of the stratication on the pressure recovery.

where T0 and TB represent the initial and the boiling temperatures


of the liquid, respectively; Cp is the specic heat; and Dhv is the latent heat of vaporization.
Eq. (2) is reasonable only to the isothermal PLG. However, the
liquid stratication plays an important role in the tank failure process and the resulted hazards [19]. For the stratied liquid, V L
should be:

2. Liquid energy

V L

An increase in the liquid energy per unit volume of a tank may


increase the occurrence probability of BLEVEs (see [10]). The liquid
energy can be expressed as follows [17]:

W 0:024

"

k1 #
P=Patm V 
Patm k
;
1
k1
P

where W is the equivalent of TNT (kg); Patm and P are the pressures
in the atmosphere and in the tank, respectively; V can be calculated
as

V  V V V L ;

where VV is the volume of vapor in the tank; V L is the volume of liquid that can ash just after the moment of rupture described as:

V L

V L f qLo =qVT ;

with VL being the actual volume of liquid and qLo and qVT being the
densities of liquid and vapor, respectively. The fraction of liquid that
ashes after depressurization, f, will be [18]:

f 1e

hL

Axf

qLo
dx;
qVT

where hL is the height of the liquid, and A(x) is the cross section area
of the tank.
Substituting Eq. (4) into Eq. (5), one can get:

V L

hL


 
C p TxT B
qLo
Ax 1  e Dhv
dx:

qVT

Here, T(x) is the liquid temperature depending on the liquid


stratication. The degree of the liquid stratication, b, can be dened as [19]:

P
;
Psat

where Psat is the saturation pressure based on the mass averaged liquid temperature.
From the above discussion, it is clear that the liquid energy depends on the degree of the liquid stratication. Hence, the comparison of depressurization processes of PLG with different degrees of
the liquid stratication (b = 1 and b > 1) is useful for studying the
inuence of the stratication on the occurrence of the BLEVE.

P / MPa

3. Experimental apparatus and procedure

t0

t1

t / min
Fig. 1. Pressure history of BLEVE.

t2

t3

The experimental equipment is illustrated in Fig. 2. The test


facility consists of a 0.06 m3 volume tank with venting system, data
acquisition system including internal pressure transducer and
thermocouples, external heating and experimental control system.
The tank is made of stainless steel with a thickness of 7 mm and a
design pressure of 3.5 MPa. The diameter and the height of the tank
are 0.4 m and 0.6 m, respectively. LPG is used as the working uid.
An electric heater that wrapped around the tank is employed as the
outer heat impingements (see Fig. 2a). Comparing with the direct
exposure to re impingement, the use of the electric heater has
two main advantages: (1) safer because of less probability of the
occurrence of re and explosion, (2) controllable and uniform heat
ux. The insulation outside the electric heater ensures the efcient

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W. Lin et al. / Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

(a)

1
2
3

10

11

5
No.5
No.4

6(a)
7(a)

No.3
No.2
No.1

(b)

12

6(b)
7(b)

Fig. 2. Schematic diagram of test facility (1) fast action valve; (2) orice plate; (3) pressure transducer; (4) pressure gauge; (5) thermocouples; (6a) electric heater (b) heating
rods; (7a) insulation (b) water; (8) FLUKE; (9) computer; (10) data acquisition system; (11) charge amplier; (12) liquid level meter.

energy transfer to the loading. When the heater heats the tank, the
liquid near the wall warms up rst. Then it becomes less dense and
rises up to generate the stratication region. For the stratied LPG,
b is greater than 1. Tests at different heat uxes (4 kW m2 and
10 kW m2) and lling ratios (85% and 45%) have been conducted.
When the tank pressure reached the set value, the depressurization tests were initiated by activating a fast action ball valve connecting to the tank through a vertical vent line. The vent line
was a 50 mm diameter stainless steel tube. The valve closed after
2 s. Orice plates in diameters of 10 mm and 20 mm were placed
between two anges connected to the fast action valve and were
0.75 m away from the vessel.
In order to study the effect of b on the BLEVE, the depressurization tests for the isothermal liquid (b = 1) were also performed. To
keep the LPG at its saturation temperature, a water bath was used
to heat the LPG. As shown in Fig. 2b, the water surrounding the

tank was heated to the set temperature by heating rods, which


are controlled by a temperature controller. After reaching the set
temperature for 5 h, the LPG within tank is considered to be in a
uniform temperature that equals to the water temperature.
Temperatures of the LPG were measured by ve T-type thermocouples with the maximum uncertainty of 0.1 K. These thermocouples were located uniformly in an axial distance of 100 mm. The
signals of temperatures were recorded by a data acquisition system
(FLUKE 2620T). The pressure history during the depressurization
process was indicated by a piezoelectric medium pressure transducer (CY-YD-205), whose full scale is 30 MPa.
4. Results and discussion
Tests were carried out in three steps. First, the thermal stratication tests, i.e. the process from t0 to t1 shown in Fig. 1, were

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W. Lin et al. / Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

conducted. Secondly, the effect of the valve opening (t1t2) on the


stratication was analyzed. Finally, the depressurization tests (t2
t3) for the stratied and the isothermal LPGs were performed to
investigate the inuence of the stratication on the BLEVE.
4.1. Stratication tests (t0t1)
Stratication tests have been performed at different liquid levels (85% and 45%) and heat uxes (4 kW m2 and 10 kW m2).
Fig. 3 shows variations of the temperatures at the different locations. T1 to T5 are the temperatures recorded by thermocouples
from No. 1 to No. 5, respectively (see Fig. 2). The interface between
liquid and vapor is located between thermocouples No. 4 and No. 5
at 85% lling ratio, while the interface is between No. 2 and No. 3 at
45% lling ratio. It can be observed from Fig. 3a that the temperature at the top of the liquid (T4) rises rst and T1 rises last. These
indicate that the liquid stratication forms rstly at the top region
and grows gradually to the bottom. The temperature gradients are
different at different positions. When the pressure reaches
2.3 MPa, the temperature differences between T1 and T2, T2 and
T3, and T3 and T4 are 26.1 K, 9.8 K, and 4.3 K, respectively. The thermal stratication can also be seen in Fig. 3b, i.e., the slope of T2 is
greater than that of T1. The stratication is more obvious in the vapor region due to the higher boundary velocity and the larger
boundary thickness.

In Fig. 3, the temperature records show that there are stratications in both liquid and vapor zones when the tank is heated by
outer heating. On trace T4 in Fig. 3a there is a spike when
t = 27 min. This can be interpreted as that the vapor ows more
violently than the liquid. As can also be seen, the liquid temperatures (T1 and T2) in Figs. 3b and 4b increase smoothly while the vapor temperatures (T3, T4 and T5) uctuate although the tank is
heated under uniform and unchanged heat ux by the electric heater. If the tank is heated by re rather than by the electric heater,
the temperatures of the vapor will change more greatly and that
will make the study more difcult.
Fig. 4a depicts variations of the saturation pressures based on
the measured temperatures at 85% lling ratio. psat(T1) represents
the saturation pressure based on Ti (i = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and p is the
measured tank pressure. Clearly, p-curve is close to those from
psat(T3) to psat(T4), and its slope is greater than that of psat(T2) and
much greater than that of psat(T1). These indicate that the upper
warmer liquid dominates the tank pressure.
The effects of the lling ratio and the heat ux on the pressure
are shown in Fig. 5. An increase in the heat ux increases the pressure-rise-rate because the higher heat ux enhances the natural
convection and in return brings about the quick increase of the liquid temperature. Higher lling ratios result in higher rise rates of
the pressure. This is because the energy through the vapor phase is

2.8
350

T1

340

(a) 85%,10kWm

T2

-2

T4

p / MPa

T/K

-2

psat(T4)

2.0

T5
320

310

psat(T5)
p

1.6

1.2

300

290

(a) 85%,10kWm

psat(T2)
psat(T3)

T3

330

psat(T1)

2.4

0.8

10

15

20

25

10

15

20

25

t / min

t / min
5
400

T1

380

-2

psat(T2)

(b) 45%,10kWm

-2

psat(T3)

T3
p / MPa

T4
T5

340

psat(T1)

T2

360

T/K

(b) 45%,10kWm

psat(T4)

psat(T5)
p

320
1
300

280

0
0

10

15

t / min
Fig. 3. Temperature history.

20

25

30

10

15

20

25

30

t / min
Fig. 4. Comparison between pressures measured and pressures based on the
saturation temperatures.

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W. Lin et al. / Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

2.0

350

1.5

T1

330

T3

(a) 60%, 1.70MPa

T2

T/K

p / MPa

T4
T5

320
310

-2

1.0

0.5

340

85%,4kWm
-2
85%,10kWm
-2
45%,4kWm
-2
45%,10kWm
0

10

20

30

40

50

300
290
280

60

time to open the valve

10

15

4.2. De-stratication tests (t1t2)

T1

380

T3

1.4

1.3

1.2

1.1
-2

85%,4kWm
-2
85%,10kWm
-2
45%,4kWm
-2
45%,10kWm

1.0

30

40

t / min
Fig. 6. The degree of stratication, b.

50

60

(b) 45%, 2.96MPa

T2

T5

360
340
320

time to open
the valve

300
280

After the pressure reaches the set value, the valve is opened to
examine the effect of venting on the liquid stratication. The orice diameter is 10 mm and the heat ux is 10 kW m2. The temperature histories with the lling ratio of 60% and 45% are
plotted in Fig. 7a and b, respectively. When the lling ratio is
60%, the interface between liquid and vapor is located at a certain
position between thermocouples No. 3 and No. 4. It can be seen

20

400

T4
T/K

lower than that through the liquid phase and the heat transport to
the tank at lower lling ratio is lower.
The effects of the heat ux and the lling ratio on the degree of
the liquid stratication are shown in Fig. 6. As supposed, the higher
the heat ux is, the greater the degree of stratication will be.
According to Ref. [20], the heat amount Q and the mass m of the
liquid that ows into the stratication region are proportional to
x and x8/7, respectively, where x is the height of the liquid. It can
be seen that when the lling ratio increases, the mass in the stratication region rises faster than that of the heat amount added. As
a result, the degree of the liquid stratication decreases.

10

30

420

Fig. 5. Pressure history.

25

t / min

t / min

0.9

20

10

20

30

40

50

t / min
Fig. 7. Temperature history during venting.

from Fig. 7a that after the valve operates, T3 and T2 deceases by


23 K and by 16 K, respectively, while T1 increases 3.5 K. Fig. 7b
shows that upon depressurization T2 drops by 28 K and T1 increases by 7 K. The reason may be that the upper warmer liquid
boils earlier than the lower liquid and the orice is too small to release the sufcient amount of vapor; therefore the tank pressure
rises rapidly and further prevents the boiling of the lower liquid.
At the same time, the violent boiling of the upper liquid and the
crash of bubbles resulting from the pressure rebound will promote
the mixing of the LPG liquid. So the stratication layer develops
down and the temperature of the lower liquid may accordingly increase during the depressurization. Only when the valve is opened
for a long enough period, the lower liquid is cooled due to the
evaporation cooling effect. But in our experiments, the valve is
closed 2 s later when the tank pressure has dropped down to the
safety value. So the temperature of the lower liquid increases
and the degree of the liquid stratication b decreases. When the
pressure rises again to the set value, the average temperature will
become higher because the temperature difference between the
upper and lower liquids decreases. The liquid energy in the tank
is related to both the temperature and mass. As a result, although
the liquid mass decreases, the liquid energy may increase if the
average temperature increases. It is expected that temperatures
become uniform if the valve opens for a long time and results in
a decreasing b.

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W. Lin et al. / Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

4.0

It can also be seen from Fig. 7 that after the valve closes again
the temperatures of vapor rise faster than those of liquid. This is
because the ow of vapor and liquid enhances the convection heat
transfer between the LPG and the wall and the specic heat of vapor is lower than that of liquid.

=1.4
=1.0

3.5

(a) D=10mm

3.0

(1) The stratication of vapor reduces the rate of depressurization. When the LPG is suddenly exposed to the atmosphere,
the pressure decreases rst. Before the liquid reaches a certain superheat degree, the depressurization rate is dedicated
by the hot vapor. Fig. 3b shows that the stratication occurs
both in the liquid and in the vapor. The vapor is superheated
and its maximum temperature will be 150 K higher than
that of liquid. Under the same pressure and orice diameter,
an increase in the vapor temperature reduces the depressurization rate. In the rst group, the depressurization rates for
Table 1
The initial test conditions.
D (mm)

Ti (K)

P0 (MPa)

Hi (mm)

WL (kg)

(a) 10

1.4
1

297.3343.2
333.7

2.26
2.20

265 (45%)
264

0.0163
0.0192

(b) 20

1.3
1

312.0360.5
353.2

2.96
3.05

235 (40%)
217

0.0199
0.0271

2.5

2.0

1.5

1.0
0.6

0.8

1.0

1.2

1.4

1.6

t/s
4.0

3.5

=1.3
=1.0

(b) D=20mm

3.0

p / MPa

The above results show that the liquid temperature may become uniform (b  1) if the valve keeps open before the occurrence
of a BLEVE. The following two groups of comparative tests were
conducted to study the effects of the liquid stratication and destratication on the pressure variation when LPG was suddenly
depressurized.
The stratied and isothermal LPGs are obtained by the apparatus shown in Fig. 2a and b, respectively. When the pressure reaches
the set value, the depressurization test is initiated via opening the
fast action valve. The initial conditions are listed in Table 1. It can
be seen that the energy of the isothermal LPG is greater than that of
the stratied LPG.
Fig. 8a illustrates the pressure history for the stratied LPG. The
depressurization orice is 10 mm in diameter. The associated pressure and temperature histories for the stratied LPG before depressurization are shown in Figs. 3b and 4b. When the stratied liquid
(b = 1.4) is depressurized suddenly, the pressure drops down at
0.48 MPa s1 without obvious pressure recovery. But for the uniform LPG (b = 1.0) whose liquid energy is greater than the stratication liquid, the pressure drops from 2.20 MPa to 2.05 MPa, and
will rebound 0.05 s later. The maximum pressure recovery
(2.55 MPa) exceeds the initial pressure about 0.35 MPa, which
can lead to the development of the crack and the failure of the tank.
The orice diameter shown in Fig. 8b is 20 mm. The depressurization test for the stratied LPG shows that upon the depressurization there is a little oscillation and then the pressure
decreases smoothly from 2.96 MPa to 1.73 MPa in 0.767 s. The
depressurization test starts for the isothermal LPG (b = 1.0) when
the pressure reaches 3.05 MPa. During the test, the pressure drops
down to 2.93 MPa in 0.04 s and then increases. The maximum
recovery pressure can reach 3.45 MPa, which is 0.40 MPa higher
than the initial pressure. This means that the recovery pressure
after the sudden depressurization can be a great threat to the tank
because its strength has decreased under re.
From the above two gures, it can be seen that the pressure histories upon rapid depressurization for the stratied LPG are different from those for the isothermal LPG. The explanation can be
given as follows:

p / MPa

4.3. Depressurization tests (t2t3)

2.5

2.0

1.5

1.0
1.0

1.2

1.4

1.6

1.8

2.0

t/s
Fig. 8. Pressure history during depressurization.

the stratied and isothermal LPGs are 1.75 MPa s1 and
8 MPa s1, respectively. The experiments conducted by Venart and Ramier [21] showed that the liquidvapor interface
rose up and a rapidly rising two-phase swell developed
due to the boiling after the liquid was depressurized suddenly. Rapid nucleation and growth of bubbles within the
increasingly superheat liquid further accelerate the rising
of the two-phase swell. The uid in the two-phase swell
begins to exit from the vessel only after it has impacted
the top of the vessel and causes an impulse, which is like a
water hammer, to the tank head. Reid [22] suggested that
the higher depressurization rate causes higher superheat
degree for the liquid. Therefore, the liquid at high depressurization rate will reach a high degree of superheat and its
pressure rebounds more violently.
(2) Comparing with the isothermal liquid, the stratied liquid at
the same pressure contains low energy WL (as shown in
Table 1) because the upper liquid at higher temperature dictates the pressure. Low liquid energy cannot induce pronounced pressure rebound. In Fig. 8a, two groups of tests
have near pressures (2.26 MPa and 2.20 MPa) and lling
ratio (45%) but the different stratication degrees (b = 1.4
and b = 1.0) and the different liquid energy (0.0163 kg TNT
and 0.0192 kg TNT). That results in weaker pressure rebound
of the former test than that of the later.

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W. Lin et al. / Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 34 (2010) 972978

It can be concluded that an increase in the degree of the liquid


stratication reduces the liquid energy and the pressure recovery
and will cause the possibility for the occurrence of the BLEVE to
be decreased.

5. Conclusion
A series of tests related to the stratication of LPGs in the tank
heated by the outer heating have been carried out in this study.
The effects of the heat ux and the lling ratio on the stratication
are analyzed. The depressurization tests were also conducted to
study the inuence of the stratication on the pressure recovery.
The following conclusions can be drawn from the experimental results: (1) The greater of the heat ux is, the greater the degree of
the liquid stratication will be. The higher the lling ratio is, the
smaller the degree of the liquid stratication will be. (2) The opening of the valve can result in the temperature rise of the lower liquid and the decrease of the degree of the liquid stratication.
(3) The liquid energy of the LPG with a uniform temperature is
greater than that of the stratied LPG. Higher energy may cause
high pressure recovery and increases the probability of the occurrence of BLEVE.
Acknowledgement
The authors are grateful to the support of Chinas National Natural Science Fund (No. 50076024).
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