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Mid-America Transportation Center

Reducing Flammability for Bakken Crude Oil for Train Transport – Phase II


University of Iowa

Principal Investigator
Albert Ratner
PI Contact Information
Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided
USDOT: $77,899
UI: Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering: $77,899
Total Project Cost
$ 155,798
Agency ID or Contract Number
Start Date
End Date
Brief Description of Research Project
Crude oil shipping by rail is a critical component of our energy security, and has grown steadily with the Bakken oil boom. Existing rail infrastructure, however, is widely understood to be in a state of disrepair, as is evidenced in the recent years by several high-profile derailments of trains carrying crude oil. These incidents lead to large oil spills, and the oil finds itself in the presence of various hot surfaces on the site (such as wheel wells). This is an especially dangerous situation in the case of Bakken crude, which is of a light variety and contains significant amounts of easy to evaporate, easy to ignite light ends, and usually the result is an intense fireball. This research proposal considers a solution to improve fire safety during transportation: adding long chain polymers to crude oil before shipping. Previous research done by Dr. Albert Ratner et al under MATC-DOT sponsorship has concluded that polymeric additives improve fire safety in diesel fuels and its blends by suppressing splashing, delaying ignition, and promoting flame extinction. There is a strong indication that the same will be true for crude oil as well. As part of the Year 1 effort for this project, mixtures of pure organic compounds, which will serve to mimic the splashing and combustion characteristics of Bakken crude, were identified and have been tested for ability to suspend polymers and nano-particles that will serve as the fire limiting agents. These pure chemical mixtures will act as crude oil surrogates and are necessary because of their homogeneity, reproducibility, and better optical properties. In year 2 of the project, experiments will be performed to study the splashing, mist formation, and ignition characteristics of the droplets in the presence of hot surfaces. Effects of various polymers in various concentrations on these characteristics will be studied for the surrogate mixtures. Computational studies to be conducted in years 3 and 4 will allow for this information to be linked with surrogate and crude properties by using methods developed in the aforementioned study. The polymer with the best performance and its optimal concentration for surrogates will be determined, and its performance with Bakken crude will also be evaluated. This knowledge will then be transferred to industry for implementation.
Describe Implementation of Research Outcomes
Impacts/Benefits of Implementation
Web Links
Modal Orientation
  • Freight
  • Railroad
  • Safety and Human Performance