Accidental-Explosion Research Gets Boost

Feb. 18, 2021

Blowing stuff up in the name of safety and research always grabs my attention.

Earlier in my career I visited Rhode Island-based FM Global, an insurance company that specializes in loss prevention services, to see how the research campus re-creates the fury of Mother Nature via such devices of destruction as debris cannons, hail guns and the mother of all wind machines that draws its power from a Ford V-10 engine. The campus also hosts several fire technology labs that have movable ceilings to simulate various warehouse situations.

A few years later, just after I joined Chemical Processing, I was sent to Fike, a Blue Springs, Mo.-based provider of industrial and explosion protection safety solutions. Once again I got to witness controlled destruction in the form of dust explosions all in the name of making manufacturing facilities safer.

Now I’ve set my sites on visiting a new Detonation Research Test Facility (DRTF) at Texas A&M University.

“This investment is bound to lead to remarkable breakthroughs,” says Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp in a press release. “We’ll make Texas oil, gas and chemical industries, and the entire world safer from accidental explosions.”

Leading the DRTF team is Elaine Oran, an authority on the physics and chemistry of explosions. Oran pioneered computational technology to address reactive flow problems, unifying concepts in chemistry, physics, engineering and computer science in a new methodology.

“We’re looking at explosions: the physics that cause accidental explosions and how to stop them,” Oran said. “It’s all about safety, control and advancing knowledge.”

The centerpiece of the facility is a two-meter diameter, 200-meter-long detonation tube that is made of steel walls at least 3/4-inch thick. It will sit on concrete supports two feet above ground in a secure, isolated and open area near the runways of a former Air Force base.

Oran said she was attracted to Texas A&M by the willingness to invest in a detonation facility that could “get us to the next level of discovery and information.”

Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) is no stranger to advancing process safety. Indeed, its Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center aims to improve knowledge and awareness of process hazards and safety for all sectors of society. And Chemical Processing partners with them to offer the MKO Process Safety Journal as well as present our Process Safety webinar series (you can view our on-demand webinars or register for upcoming ones here.)

It was through one of CP’s Process Safety webinars, which feature safety experts from around the world, that I launched the podcast series Process Safety With Trish & Traci. Trish Kerin is the director of the IChemE Safety Centre and is a member of the Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center steering committee.

As for Oran on her new role, “It was just an amazing opportunity . . . . The kind of thing you really couldn’t say no to.”

I look forward to her research and results. . . and hopefully a guest appearance in a future webinar or podcast.

Traci Purdum fancies herself a process-safety enthusiast who doesn’t pass up a chance to learn more about what makes ordinary work days turn disastrous. 
About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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