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What is %LEL / %UEL / PID

Lower & Upper Explosive Limits for


Flammable Gases & Vapors
Before a fire or explosion can occur, three conditions must be met
simultaneously.
A fuel (ie. combustible gas) and oxygen (air) must exist in certain
proportions, along with an ignition source, such as a spark or flame.
The ratio of fuel and oxygen that is required varies with each
combustible gas or vapor.

The minimum concentration of a particular combustible gas or vapor


necessary to support its combustion in air is defined as the Lower
Explosive Limit (LEL) for that gas. Below this level, the mixture is
too "lean" to burn. The maximum concentration of a gas or vapor
that will burn in air is defined as the Upper Explosive Limit (UEL).
Above this level, the mixture is too "rich" to burn. The range
between the LEL and UEL is known as the flammable range for that
gas or vapor.

Methane - LEL: 5% by volume in Air / UEL: 17% by


volume in Air
Visual example to show where on the scale % of LEL is measured

Lower and Upper Explosive Limits


The values shown in the table below are valid only for the conditions
under which they were determined (usually room temperature and
atmospheric pressure using a 2 inch tube with spark ignition). The
flammability range of most materials expands as temperature,
pressure and container diameter increase. All concentrations in
percent by volume.
Gas LEL UEL
Acetone 2.6 13

Acetylene 2.5 100

Acrylonitrile 3 17

Allene 1.5 11.5

Ammonia 15 28

Benzene 1.3 7.9

1.3-Butadiene 2 12

Butane 1.8 8.4

n-Butanol 1.7 12

1-Butene 1.6 10

Cis-2-Butene 1.7 9.7

Trans-2-Butene 1.7 9.7

Butyl Acetate 1.4 8

Carbon Monoxide 12.5 74


Carbonyl Sulfide 12 29

Chlorotrifluoroethylene 8.4 38.7

Cumene 0.9 6.5

Cyanogen 6.6 32

Cyclohexane 1.3 7.8

Cyclopropane 2.4 10.4

Deuterium 4.9 75

Diborane 0.8 88

Dichlorosilane 4.1 98.8

Diethylbenzene 0.8 ...

1.1-Difluoro-1-Chloroethane 9 14.8

1.1-Difluoroethane 5.1 17.1

1.1-Difluoroethylene 5.5 21.3

Dimethylamine 2.8 14.4

Dimethyl Ether 3.4 27

2.2-Dimethylpropane 1.4 7.5

Ethane 3 12.4

Ethanol 3.3 19

Ethyl Acetate 2.2 11

Ethyl Benzene 1 6.7

Ethyl Chloride 3.8 15.4

Ethylene 2.7 36

Ethylene Oxide 3.6 100

Gasoline 1.2 7.1

Gas LEL UEL

Gas LEL UEL


Heptane 1.1 6.7

Hexane 1.2 7.4

Hydrogen 4 75

Hydrogen Cyanide 5.6 40


Hydrogen Sulfide 4 44

Isobutane 1.8 8.4

Isobutylene 1.8 9.6

Isopropanol 2.2 ...

Methane 5 17

Methanol 6.7 36

Methylacetylene 1.7 11.7

Methyl Bromide 10 15

3-Methyl-1-Butene 1.5 9.1

Methyl Cellosolve 2.5 20

Methyl Chloride 7 17.4

Methyl Ethyl Ketone 1.9 10

Methyl Mercaptan 3.9 21.8

Methyl Vinyl Ether 2.6 39

Monoethylamine 3.5 14

Monomethylamine 4.9 20.7

Nickel Carbonyl 2 ...

Pentane 1.4 7.8

Picoline 1.4 ...

Propane 2.1 9.5

Propylene 2.4 11

Propylene Oxide 2.8 37

Styrene 1.1 ...

Tetrafluoroethylene 4 43

Tetrahydrofuran 2 ...

Toluene 1.2 7.1

Trichloroethylene 12 40

Trimethylamine 2 12

Turpentine 0.7 ...

Vinyl Acetate 2.6 ...


Vinyl Bromide 9 14

Vinyl Chloride 4 22

Vinyl Fluoride 2.6 21.7

Xylene 1.1 6.6

Gas LEL UEL

Principles of Gas Detection


One of the many requirements for entering confined spaces is the
measurement for flammable gases. Prior to entry of a confined
space, the level of flammable gases must be below 10% of LEL.

The most common sensor used for measuring LEL is the Wheatstone
bridge/catalytic bead/pellistor sensor ("Wheatstone bridge").

LEL Sensors Explained


A Wheatstone bridge LEL sensor is simply a tiny electric stove with
two burner elements. One element has a catalyst (such as platinum)
and one doesn't. Both elements are heated to a temperature that
normally would not support combustion.

However, the element with the catalyst "burns" gas at a low level
and heats up relative to the element without the catalyst. The hotter
element has more resistance and the Wheatstone bridge measures
the difference in resistance between the two elements, which
correlates to LEL.
Unfortunately, Wheatstone bridge sensors fail to an unsafe state;
when they fail, they indicate safe levels of flammable gases. Failure
and/or poisoning of Wheatstone bridge LEL sensor can only be
determined through challenging Wheatstone bridge sensors with
calibration gas.

LEL Sensors Limitations


Two mechanisms affect the performance of Wheatstone bridge LEL
sensors and reduce their effectiveness when applied to all but
methane:
1. GASES BURN WITH DIFFERENT HEAT OUTPUTS
Some gases burn hot and some burn relatively cool. These
differing physical characteristics lead to difficulties when using
LEL sensors. For example, 100% of LEL Methane (5% methane by
volume) burns with twice the heat of 100% of LEL Propane (2.0
propane by volume).
2. HEAVIER HYDROCARBON VAPORS HAVE DIFFICULTY
DIFFUSING INTO LEL SENSORS AND REDUCE THEIR OUTPUT
Some Heavier hydrocarbon vapors have difficulty diffusing
through the sintered metal flame arrestor on LEL sensors. This
flame arrestor is necessary to prevent the sensor itself from
starting a fire and does not prevent gases like methane, propane
and ethane from reaching the Wheatstone bridge. However,
hydrocarbons like gasoline, diesel, solvents, etc, diffuse through
the flame arrestor slower so that less vapor reaches the
Wheatstone bridge and the sensor gives less output.

Why Not Use an LEL Monitor?


Many Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are flammable and may be
detected by the LEL or combustible gas sensors found in virtually
every multigas monitor. However, LEL sensors are not particularly
useful in measuring toxicity because they do not have enough
sensitivity.

WHAT ARE SOME COMMON VOCS?

VOCs are the chemical compounds that keep industry going and
include:
 Fuels
 Oils, Degreasers, Heat Transfer Fluids

 Solvents, Paints

 Plastics, Resins and their precursors

 and many others

VOCs are found throughout industry, from the obvious applications


in the petro-chem industry to not-so-obvious applications such as
sausage manufacturing.

LEL Sensors Measure Explosivity, Not


Toxicity
LEL sensors measure percent of LEL. For example, Gasoline has an
LEL of 1.4%. Therefore, 100% of LEL is 14,000 ppm of gasoline, 10%
of LEL is 1,400 ppm of gasoline and 1% of LEL is 140 ppm of
gasoline.

140 ppm of gasoline is the lowest amount of vapor that the LEL
monitor can "see." Gasoline has a TWA of 300 ppm and a STEL of
500 ppm; this does not make LEL sensors well suited for measuring
gasoline vapors because they simply don't provide adequate
resolution.

LEL sensors measure explosivity, not toxicity. Many VOCs are


potentially toxic at levels that are well below their explosive levels
and below the sensitivity of the LEL sensors.

AS DESCRIBED ABOVE:

One of the many requirements for entering confined spaces called is


the measurement of confined spaces for flammable gases.

Prior to entry of a confined space, the level of flammable gases


must be below 10% of LEL.

The most common sensor used for measuring LEL is the Wheatstone
bridge/catalytic bead/pellistor sensor ("Wheatstone bridge").

While useful in a wide variety of applications, in some settings


Wheatstone bridge LEL sensors either don't have enough sensitivity
to a particular chemical, or chemicals used in the environment can
render the Wheatstone bridge sensor inoperable.

In these types of circumstances, PIDs (photoionization


detectors) can provide an alternative, highly accurate, and
poison-free means of measuring 10% of LEL for confined space
entry.
What is a PID?
A Photo-Ionization Detector measures VOCs and other toxic gases in
low concentrations from ppb (parts per billion) up to 10,000 ppm
(parts per million or 1% by volume).
A PID is a very sensitive broad-spectrum monitor, like a "low-level
LEL monitor. A Photo-Ionization Detector measures VOCs and other
toxic gases in low concentrations from ppb (parts per billion) up to
10,000 ppm (parts per million or 1% by volume). A PID is a very
sensitive broad-spectrum monitor, like a "low-level LEL monitor.

How does a PID Work?


A Photo Ionization Detector (PID) uses an Ultraviolet (UV) light
source (Photo= light) to break down chemicals to positive and
negative ions (Ionization) that can easily be counted with a
Detector. Ionization occurs when a molecule absorbs the high
energy UV light, which excites the molecule and results in the
temporary loss of a negatively charged electron and the formation
of positively charged ion.
The gas becomes electrically charged. In the Detector these
charged particles produce a current that is then amplified and
displayed on the meter as "ppm" (parts per million) or even in "ppb"
(parts per billion).

The ions quickly recombine after the electrodes in the detector to


"reform" their original molecule.

PIDs are non-destructive; they do not "burn" or permanently alter


the sample gas, which allows them to be used for sample gathering.

What does a PID measure?


The largest group of compounds measured by a PID are the
Organics: compounds containing Carbon (C) atoms. These include:

 Aromatics - compounds containing a benzene ring including


benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene
 Ketones & Aldehydes - compounds with a C=O bond including
acetone, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and acetaldehyde
 Amines & Amides - Carbon compounds containing nitrogen,
like diethylamine

 Chlorinated hydrocarbons - trichloroethylene (TCE),


perchloroethylene (PERC)

 Sulfur compounds - mercaptans, sulfides

 Unsaturated hydrocarbons - like butadiene and isobutylene

 Alcohol's- like isopropanol (IPA) and ethanol

 Saturated hydrocarbons - like butane and octane. In addition to


organic compounds, PIDs can be used to measure some
Inorganics. These are compounds without carbon and include:

 Ammonia

 Semiconductor gases: Arsine, Phosphine

 Hydrogen sulfide

 Nitric Oxide

 Bromine and Iodine