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Mid-America Transportation Center

Improving Freight Fire Safety: Modifying Droplet Behavior to Minimize Ignition

Final Report
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University of Iowa


  • Principal Investigator: Albert Ratner ( (319)384-0883)
  • Project Status
  • Start Date: 07/01/2012
  • End Date: 06/30/2013
  • About this Project
    Brief Project Description & Background
    This project focuses on modeling liquid fuel drops so as to enable the design of a fuel additive that would make the fuel resistant to catching fire during an accident. The additive works by being made of long polymer chains which interact when the fuel tries to splash and mist, and the interaction makes the fuel turn nearly solid (like silly putty). Because the fuel turns solid (consistency of Jello), it breaks up into large chunks which are hard to ignite instead of the normal (easily ignitable) fine mist. The work here consists of computationally testing splashing drops and determining the viscosity the additive needs to produce so as to see the desired non-splashing behavior.
    Research Objective
    The objective of this project is to computationally measure the viscosity, and particularly the non-Newtonian component, required to achieve splash suppression at conditions similar to those encountered during truck and train accidents. The viscosity parameters will then be provided to industrial and academic chemists who can synthesize the appropriate polymer additive for use in large scale testing.
    Potential Benefits
    Based on State of Iowa DOT data, truck accidents that result in fires are 10 times as likely to result in fatalities as those where no fire is present. The work here will help bring a fire preventing/mitigating additive another step closer to reality. Use of this additive would save lives and mitigate the effect of accidents.
    Recent Analysis of Iowa DOT truck crash data shows that fatalities are 10 times more likely to occur during a crash if there is a fire present. This highlights the need for technology that can mitigate or eliminate these crash fires. One such methodology is to add a polymer additive to the fuel to modify its splashing and misting characteristics. Reduction of fuel splashing and misting greatly reduces the likelihood of a fire. Three years of MATC-DOT support has led to the development of a computer modeling method that can predict droplet splashing and mist formation. The goal of this project would bring that work to fruition by computationally testing all of the crash conditions of interest and then transferring the results to industry and academia where the appropriate polymers could be developed. One of the recent issues for the state of Iowa is the increased number of pure Ethanol shipments between producers and blending facilities, greatly increasing the accident risk and precipitating a warning from the US DOT on vehicle-related ethanol fires. The methods proposed here would reduce this risk.
    Total Project Cost
    $ 59196