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Fire Heat Flux to Un-Wetted Vessel


Saeid Rahimi
05-Nov-2010
Introduction
For unwetted vessels, API-521 section 5.15.1.2.2 states that recent calculation indicates that heat flux of the fire is in the range of
approximately 80kW/m
2
to 100kW/m
2
. In absence of any guideline in depressuring standards and design practices, many people are
using this value as net heat input to the gas inside the vessel for depressuring calculation of unwetted (gas filled) vessels. This
technical note reviews the adequacy of this range and recommends alternative way.
Fire heat flux
As discussed in technical note Effect of Different Parameters on Depressuring Calculation Results below equation is usually used
to define heat input to gas filled vessels:
q =C
1
+C
2
time +C
3
(C
4
Vessel Temp) +C
5
LiqVol
(time=t)
/ LiqVol
(time=0)
(1)
where
C
1
=Q A
Q =80-100 kW/m
2

C
2
=C
3
=C
4
=C
5
=0
Using this equation with above coefficients resolves the problem of setting fire heat flux but introduces new questions and
problems. For example:
This value seems to be high at first glance compared to wetted vessel heat flux. According to above equation (q =100 A), an
unwetted vessel with surface area of 1 m
2
can absorb 100kW while wetted vessels heat absorption formula (q =43.2 F A
0.82
)
gives 43.2kW (assuming F=1.0). Higher heat flux through unwetted surface than wetted one totally contradicts with heat
transfer fundamentals.
Considering constant heat flux of 100kW/m
2
will result in highly unreasonable final temperature. As vessel gas content is
depleted by time during depressuring, vessel temperature increases drastically. Using constant heat flux without taking gas and
metal temperature changes into account is not right
Following section introduces a method for calculating heat transfer rate from fire to gas inside the vessel as a function of wall and
gas temperature and gas physical properties.
Heat transfer rate
Since the heat transfer coefficient from fire to vessel metal and metal conductivity is much higher than internal heat transfer
coefficient, the overall heat transfer rate from fire to vessel gas is mainly controlled by vessel internal heat transfer coefficient.
Internal heat transfer takes place between vessel metal and gas according to below equation:
T A h q = (2)
When fire starts, vessel gas and metal are in operating temperature
and heat transfer rate is zero. The temperature of plate in contact with
fire increases rapidly and reaches an equilibrium temperature where
heat gain from fire is equal to heat loss to surrounding (vessel inside
and outside). During this period, internal heat transfer is high because
of high differential temperature between vessel metal and gas. This
equilibrium temperature is assumed to be 1100F (593C) as advised
by API-521. When vessel wall is at 593C, internal heat transfer
reduces by time and ultimately stops when gas temperature reaches
plate temperature. Figure 1 depicts the trend of main heat transfer
parameters as a function of time.
Figure 1 The profile of heat transfer parameters

2

To simplify the heat transfer calculation, the first minutes of fire during which plate temperature is increasing to 593C has been
ignored and it is assumed that plate temperature and remains constant during depressuring. For such condition (isothermal surface),
free convection heat transfer coefficient can be calculated using below typical equation:
( )
m
Pr Gr C Nu= (3)

Where,

2
3 2
x T g
Gr


= ,
k
C
Pr
p

= ,
k
x h
Nu= ,
g w
T T T =
Vessel type Gr Pr C m x
Vertical
10
4
-10
9

10
9
-10
13

0.59
0.10
1/4
1/3
L
Horizontal
10
4
-10
9

10
9
-10
13

0.53
0.13
1/4
1/3
D

Therefore internal heat transfer coefficient can be calculated by equation (4).
m
p
m
2
3 2
k
C
x T g
x
k C
h


= (4)
Replacing
av
T
1
= in equation (4) where
2
T T
T
g w
av
+
= generates equation (5).

(5)

Equation (5) shows that systems with higher gas density (higher pressure, higher molecular weight, lower temperature) have
higher heat transfer rate. For most process vessels, flow on the inner surface of vessel will be turbulent (10
9
<Gr Pr <10
13
).
Laminar flow (10
4
<Gr Pr <10
9
) is observed in very low pressure (basically atmospheric) systems.
Case study
Below table shows the fire heat flux for a horizontal vessel with total surface area of 20m
2
, containing methane initially at
operating temperature and pressure of 0C and of 100bar when wall temperature is at 593C and gas temperature increases.
Tg C 0 100 200 300 400 500
Tav C 297 347 397 447 497 547
at Tav kg/m
3
33.555 30.675 28.279 26.250 24.507 22.990
Cp at Tav J/kg C 3254.5 3421.2 3589.5 3754.6 3913.4 4063.4
at Tav kg/m s 1.97E-05 2.07E-05 2.18E-05 2.28E-05 2.39E-05 2.49E-05
k at Tav J/m s C 8.38E-02 9.29E-02 1.02E-01 1.12E-01 1.22E-01 1.32E-01
Gr - 3.70E+12 1.71E+13 9.71E+12 5.29E+12 2.60E+12 9.48E+11
Pr - 0.765 0.764 0.764 0.765 0.766 0.767
Gr Pr - 2.83E+12 1.30E+13 7.42E+12 4.05E+12 1.99E+12 7.27E+11
h W/m
2
C 308.1 284.0 259.1 231.7 199.0 154.1
Q kW/m
2
182.74 140.03 101.85 67.90 38.42 14.34

NOMENCLATURE
A Vessel surface area exposed to fire, m
2

C Constant
Cp Gas heat capacity, J /kg K
D Vessel diameter, m
L Vessel length, m
g Gravity acceleration, 9.81m/s
2

Gr Grashof number, dimensionless
h Heat transfer coefficient, J /s m
2
K
k Gas thermal conductivity, J /s m K
m Constant
Nu Nusselt number, dimensionless
P
r
Prandtl number, dimensionless
q Heat transfer rate, J /sec (W)
Q Fire heat flux (q/A), kW/m2
T
g
Vessel gas temperature, K
T
w
Vessel wall temperature, K
T
av
Gas average temperature, K
x Characteristic dimension, m
Cubical expansion coefficient, 1/K
Gas dynamic Viscosity, kg/m s
Gas density, kg/m
3

m
av
3
m
1
1
m
1
p
2
T
T
x
k C g
C h



3

According to the results, fire heat flux can be initially double of API range and it approaches zero at higher gas temperature. Heat
flux calculated in above example is almost the highest value possible because other hydrocarbon (ethane and heavier) cannot be
maintained in gas phase unless pressure is reduced or temperature is increased which will result in lower heat transfer rate. Air
remains in gas phase at higher pressure than 100 bar but air heat capacity is mush lesser than methane at the same pressure causing
lower heat transfer rate. Below table shows the effects of these parameters on fire heat flux.






Conclusion
Fire heat flux of 80 to 100kW/m
2
is just an approximate range which may result in under-designed or over-designed depressuring
system depending on system condition. This value is certainly conservative for relatively low pressure systems but for high pressure
system it may cause undersized depressuring facilities. Therefore it should be verified on case by case basis.
Fire heat flux for unwetted vessels can be defined in better way by using fire model (equation (1)) in hysys with below setting:
C
3
=h A kW/C
C
4
=593C
C
1
=C
2
=C
5
=0
This is nothing but reproducing equation (2) by using available tools in Hysys.
This is the most accurate way of setting fire heat input for unwetted vessels as
gas temperature is limited to plate temperature and heat input is a function of
time as the gas temperature (Vessel Temp in equation shown in Figure 2) is
changing by time.
Using maximum heat transfer coefficient from above table to set C
3
is
conservative approach for depressuring calculation because of two reasons:
Heat transfer coefficient decreases as system pressure reduces during
depressuring.
Heat transfer coefficient decreases as gas temperature increases during
depressuring.
So for above example, C
3
=0.308 kW/m
2
C x 20 =6.0 kW/C. Figure 2 Hysys fire heat flux equation

Contact
Please feel free to contact S.Rahimi@gmail.com or ContactUs@chemwork.org should you have any comment, question or
feedback.

Composition Pressure (bar) Temperature(C) Max heat flux (kW/m
2
)
Methane 100 0 182.7
Methane 10 -50 43.2
Methane 1 0 6.6
Ethane 20 0 76.8
Air 100 0 102.9
Air 1 0 3.6