The Spontaneous Combustion of Railway Ties and Asphalt Shingles

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Leslie, Geoffrey
Calorimetry , Guarded Hot Plate , Spontaneous Combustion , py-GC/MS , Pyrolysis , Biomass
Many Low Carbon Fuels (LCFs) present unknown spontaneous combustion risks, which must be quantified before their use as fossil fuel replacements. Wood and coal spontaneous combustion is well understood; however, LCFs weather, and subsequent chemical changes could affect their spontaneous combustion properties. LCF spontaneous combustion could lead to accidental fires with possible loss of life, limb andproperty. The spontaneous combustion risks of two LCFs, discarded creosote-treated wooden railway ties and roofing asphalt shingles, were investigated with calorimetry and heat transfer experiments. Chemical changes due to weathering were studied with pyrolysis-Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (py-GC/MS). Creosote-treated wooden railway tie dust, roofing asphalt shingle particles, poplar wood pellets, and petroleum coke self-heating were studied with isothermal calorimetry. Railway tie dust and asphalt shingle heat transfer were characterized with a guarded hot plate. Petroleum coke self-heating was consistent with coal, while both poplar pellets and railway tie dust were found to be more reactive compared to oven test results of similar materials. The observed increase in reactivity was probably a result of significant moisture contenint in the pellet and railway tie dust. Critical conditions for spontaneous combustion were evaluated with the Frank-Kamenetskii parameter, assuming an ambient temperature of 40°C and constant moisture content. Kamenetskii calculations indicate that a 1.6 m cube of railway tie dust, or a 58 m cube of asphalt particles, would be unstable and combust. LCF chemistry may have been affected by weathering, which would cause chemical changes that affect their spontaneous combustion properties. Therefore, railway tie wood and roofing asphalt shingle chemistry were investigated by identifying products of 250° and 550°C pyrolysis with py-GC/MS. Railway tie wood pyrolyzates did not show signs of weathering; in contrast, asphalt pyrolysis produced sulfur dioxide and many oxygenated species, which indicated that the asphalt was extensively oxidized. Calorimetry showed that self-heating was primarily oxidative — the oxygen content of asphalt probably reduced its self-heating capacity. The railway tie wood was not extensively oxidized and it self-heated in a similar manner to “fresh” wood.
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