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Training Module

Describe
Flammable
Gas Measurement
100%

90% C
80%

70%
No
Combustion
60%

50%

40%

30%
UEL B
20%

Combustion 10% LEL A


No 0%
Combustion

Human Development
Consultants Ltd.
Describe Flammable
Gas Measurement

HDC Human Development Consultants Ltd.


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ISBN 1-55338-000-2

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

1. GasesFlammability. 2. Gas-detectors. I. HDC Human Development Consultants.


TH9271.D48 2000 665.70287 C00-900571-4

This training kit consists of the following parts:


Training Module and Self-Check Blank Answer Sheet
Knowledge Check and Answer Key

Published by HDC Human Development Consultants Ltd.


Published in Canada

HDC Human Development Consultants Ltd.


Website: www.hdc.ca
E-mail: marketing@hdc.ca
Phone: (780) 463-3909

April, 2004
Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

Contents
Training Objectives 1

1 Introduction 1

2 Combustion 3

Measuring the Concentration of a Flammable Gas 6


3 3.1 LEL (Lower Explosive Limit) 7
3.2 UEL (Upper Explosive Limit) 13

Portable Gas Detectors 14


4 4.1 Flammable Gas Detector Technology 15
4.2 Limitations of Flammable Gas Technology 17

5 General Operating Conditions 19

6 Self-Check 21

7 Self-Check Answers 23

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

Training Upon completion of this training kit, you will be able to:
Objectives Explain the purpose and importance of testing for the
presence of flammable gases
Describe the conditions necessary for a fire or explosion
to occur
Explain the concepts of LEL (Lower Explosive Limit) and
UEL (Upper Explosive Limit)
Calculate % LEL of a flammable gas in the atmosphere,
given the percentage concentration by volume of that
flammable gas
Calculate the percentage concentration by volume of a
flammable gas in the atmosphere, given the % LEL of
that flammable gas
Explain the general operating principles of flammable
gas detectors
Describe the main factors affecting the accuracy of
flammable gas detector readings
Identify safety precautions which must be followed
whenever taking flammable gas readings

1 Introduction
Many of the products and chemicals used in industry have the
potential to burn or explode. This potential for fire poses a
critical safety hazard during the transportation, processing, and
storage of the products, during the maintenance of related
equipment, during underground construction, and during entry
into confined spaces where flammable products may have
accumulated. At most industrial facilities, specific measures
have been taken to minimize the potential for fire or explosion
by employing various strategies, such as:
identifying hazardous areas
implementing specific policies relating to vehicle entry,
confined space entry, smoking, safe work agreements, and
work procedures to minimize fire and explosion hazards
when work is being performed in hazardous areas

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

using intrinsically safe electrical equipment and wiring to


prevent sparks
installing fixed monitoring equipment to detect the presence
of flammable gases

The development and implementation of safety measures to


minimize the potential for fires are based on the principles of
combustion. Combustion is defined as the process of burning.
Chemically, combustion is the process of oxidization, in which
oxygen rapidly combines with a material, giving off heat and
often light. Materials which oxidize readily, that is, materials
which can easily ignite, are called flammable materials.

In order for combustion to take place


and be sustained, three elements must

E
UR
be present:

OX
AT
oxygen

YG
ER

EN
MP
a source of ignition (source of

TE
high temperature)
FUEL
fuel
Figure 1Fire Triangle

If one of the three elements is missing, combustion cannot


take place. Consequently, all fire-related safety measures
concentrate on eliminating one or more of the three elements
which are needed for combustion. In general, employees must
be able to identify the causes and conditions which create fire
hazards, and take the correct action to minimize the potential
of fires.

This module focuses on controlling one element of the fire


trianglefuel. This control is achieved by measuring the
concentration of flammable gases to determine the potential for
a fire or explosion and then taking corrective action. The
module also provides a brief description of the use of purging to
eliminate oxygen as a means to minimize the potential for fire
or explosion.

Employees must also be able to use a gas detector to


determine levels of flammable gas in the work environment.

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

After completing this module, employees must review vendor


literature for the specific portable flammable gas detector(s) in
use at their facilities to be able to operate and interpret the
readings and alarms produced by that specific model of
detector.

The concentration of a flammable gas can be measured either


NOTE
as a percentage by volume in the atmosphere or as a
percentage LEL (Lower Explosive Limit). These units of
measurement can be easily confused. The reader should pay
special attention to the definitions and use of these terms
when reading this module.

2 Combustion
Figure 2 shows various concentrations of a flammable gas in
the atmosphere. At 0% concentration by volume, no flammable
gas is present; at 100% concentration by volume, all of the
atmosphere has been displaced by the flammable gas.

Figure 2
Percent
Concentration by
Volume of A
Specific
Flammable Gas

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

The concentration of flammable gas in the atmosphere at


point A is very low and combustion cannot be sustained in the
presence of an ignition source. This inability to burn can best
be explained at the molecular level. A flammable gas molecule
and an oxygen molecule require a specific minimum amount of
heat in order to chemically react.

At point A there is a great distance between flammable gas


molecules (due to the low concentration of flammable gas). If
one of the gas molecules were to chemically react with an
adjacent oxygen molecule, heat would be given off. By the time
this heat reaches the next gas molecule, the molecules in the
atmosphere would have absorbed most of the heat energy.
Consequently, there would not be enough heat reaching the
nearest gas molecule and an adjacent oxygen molecule to
initiate a chemical reaction. A continuous chemical reaction
(i.e., combustion) does not take place.

An example of this condition would be painting the exterior of a


house with an oil-based paint. An open paint can would be
giving off some flammable gases, but the concentration of the
flammable gases would be too low to cause a fire if a source of
ignition (e.g. a cigarette) were present.

An additional safeguard is to eliminate any source of ignition


(e.g. the cigarette).

The concentration of flammable gas in the atmosphere at


point B is at a level which supports continuous combustion. The
gas molecules are close enough that the heat of combustion of
one molecule will reach the next gas molecule before the
atmosphere can absorb all of the heat energy. This heat then
provides the energy for the nearest gas molecule to react with
an adjacent oxygen molecule, producing additional heat. The
process continues from one gas molecule to the next, resulting
in sustained combustion.

At point C, the concentration of flammable gas in the atmo-


sphere is at such a high level that combustion cannot be
sustained in the presence of an ignition source. Because of the
high concentration of flammable gas, there is a great distance

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

between oxygen molecules. If one of the gas molecules


chemically reacts with an adjacent oxygen molecule, heat is
given off. By the time this heat reaches the next oxygen
molecule, the flammable gas molecules have absorbed most of
the heat energy. Consequently, there is not enough heat
reaching the nearest oxygen molecule and an adjacent gas
molecule to initiate a chemical reaction. A continuous chemical
reaction (combustion) does not take place. A practical way of
thinking of this concept is that combustion cannot take place
because of the lack of oxygen.

One application of this concept is at oil battery storage tanks.


When oil tanks are being emptied, air is not allowed to enter the
tanks to equalize the pressure since the presence of air creates
the potential for combustion. Instead, make-up gas is piped into
the tanks to maintain a high concentration of gas above the oil,
ensuring an oxygen-free condition.

The concentration of flammable gas can be controlled in two


ways to minimize the risk of fire:
1. Ensure that no flammable gas (or a very low concentration
of flammable gas) is presentideally a concentration of 0%
gas by volume (no flammable gas present).
2. Ensure the concentration of flammable gas is very high,
eliminating the oxygenideally a concentration of 100% by
volume of flammable gas (no oxygen present).

To ensure the workplace is safe from potential fires or


explosions, employees use specific equipment to identify the
presence of a flammable gas and measure the gass potential
for igniting. For low concentrations of flammable gases,
employees use a portable flammable gas detector to monitor
and measure the gases. At high concentrations of flammable
gases, employees use an oxygen analyzer to measure the
concentration of the oxygen. Identifying and measuring the
concentration of a flammable gas is only the first step in
ensuring a safe workplace. Ultimately, the responsibility lies
with employees to:
1. Determine the potential risk of fire for specific flammable
gas readings taken in various work conditions, and then
2. Take action to eliminate any risk.

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

3 Measuring the Concentration of a


Flammable Gas
At very low concentrations of a flammable gas in the
atmosphere, say 0.25% by volume for most flammable gases,
combustion cannot take place when a source of ignition is
present. As the concentration increases, a point will be reached
where combustion will occur if there is a source of ignition.
Refer to Figure 3. This level of concentration of the flammable
gas is known as LEL (Lower Explosive Limit). Some flammable
gas detector vendor manuals may use the term Lower
Flammable Limit (LFL)to mean LEL. Concentrations of a
flammable gas below its LEL will not burn; concentrations of a
flammable gas at or above its LEL will potentially burn or
explode if a source of ignition is present.

Figure 3
Measuring the
Potential for
Combustion of a
Specific
Flammable Gas

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Human Development Describe Flammable
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If the concentration of the flammable gas is increased above its


LEL, a point will be reached where burning will cease. This
point is known as the UEL (Upper Explosive Limit). All
concentrations of the flammable gas above its UEL will not burn
or explode in the presence of a source of ignition because there
is not enough oxygen to support combustion. All concentrations
of the flammable gas between its LEL and UEL will burn or
explode if a source of ignition is present.

3.1 LEL (Lower Explosive Limit)


Each type of flammable gas has a unique LEL (and UEL). The
following table lists the LEL and UEL (as approximate percent
concentration by volume) of flammable gases common to
industry.

Figure 4 LEL (Percentage UEL (Percentage


LEL and UEL of Gas Concentration by Concentration by Volume)
Selected Volume)
Flammable
Gases methane 5.0% 15%
ethane 2.9% 13%
propane 2.1% 9.5%
isobutane 1.8% 8.4%
n-butane 1.8% 8.4%
isopentane 1.4% 8.3%
n-pentane 1.4% 8.3%
acetylene 2.4% 80% to 100%*
carbon monoxide 12.5% 74.2%
ethylene glycol 3.2% 15.3%
gasoline (motor) 1.3% 6%
hydrogen sulfide 4.3% 45.5%
* UEL of acetylene is difficult to measure and test results may vary
from 80% to 100%.

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

Note in the table that LEL is measured as percent concentration


by volume of the flammable gas in the atmosphere. Using the
percentage concentration by volume of a flammable gas in the
atmosphere as a means for determining the potential for a fire or
explosion is not practical. An employee would have to determine
the type of gas present, measure the concentration of the gas
(as a percentage by volume) and then compare the
measurement to the specific LEL for that gas. To make
measurement taking and decision making easier, flammable gas
detectors measure the potential for combustion or explosion as
a % LEL (percentage of LEL). This approach requires that the
LEL for all gases be set at 100%.

Figure 5
Example of
100% LEL

The following table, comparing the percentage concentration by


volume of three gases at 100% LEL, illustrates that each
flammable gas has a unique LEL.

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

Figure 6 LEL as a % Concentration by Flammable Gas Detector


Defining the LEL Volume in the Atmosphere Reading
Gas
of Three
Flammable methane 5.0% 100% LEL
Gases as 100% acetylene 2.4% 100% LEL
LEL
gasoline 1.3% 100% LEL

The following table refers to two different atmospheres, each


containing a different flammable gas. The table compares
concentrations of two flammable gases in the atmosphere at
the same percentage LEL measured by a flammable gas
detector.

Figure 7 Concentration of Concentration of Propane Gas Flammable


Comparing the Methane Gas in the in the Atmosphere Gas Detector
Concentration of Atmosphere Readings
Two Different 5% methane (95% air) 2.1% propane (97.65% air) 100% LEL
Flammable
Gases with Gas 4% methane (96% air) 1.68% propane (98.12% air) 80% LEL
Detector 3% methane (97% air) 1.26% propane (98.59% air) 60% LEL
Readings
2% methane (98% air) 0.84% propane (99.06% air) 40% LEL
1% methane (99% air) 0.42% propane (99.53% air) 20% LEL

The flammable gas detector measures the potential for


combustion in terms of percent LEL, and is therefore able to
detect and take LEL measurements of any flammable gas. This
method of measurement is very useful for employees because
employees can use the flammable gas detector reading to
directly determine the degree of risk of a fire occurring. The %
LEL scale permits operators of flammable gas testing
equipment to immediately determine how close the flammable
gas concentration is to the LEL. A reading of 100% LEL
indicates that there is enough flammable gas present to result
in combustion, while a reading of 50% LEL indicates that the
concentration of flammable gas is only half of the required
amount for combustion to take place. The % LEL scale
therefore serves as an indication of the relative hazard posed
by concentrations of flammable gas: low LEL percentages
indicate safer working conditions, while percentages close to
100% indicate an extremely dangerous work condition.

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Human Development Describe Flammable
Consultants Ltd. Gas Measurement

This method for measuring the potential for combustion has a


secondary benefitonly a single gas, in this case methane, is
required as a standard to calibrate flammable gas detectors.
However, when measuring the LEL of other types of flammable
gases, a correction factor supplied by the manufacturer may
have to be used to obtain an accurate reading.

Sometimes employees have difficulties in understanding the


difference and relationship between percent concentration of a
flammable gas in the atmosphere and percentage LEL.
Employees must not confuse these concepts since the results
could expose employees to a high risk condition. To ensure
there is no misunderstanding, employees must be able to
convert:
1. Percentage concentration by volume of a known flammable
gas in the atmosphere to percentage LEL
2. Percentage LEL of a known flammable gas to percent
concentration by volume in the atmosphere

Converting Percentage Concentration by Volume of a


Flammable Gas in the Atmosphere to Percentage LEL

Example 1 A flammable gas has an LEL of 4% by volume (i.e., 4%


concentration by volume = 100% LEL). If the sample atmo-
sphere has a concentration of 1% by volume of this gas, what
is the percentage LEL of the gas?

y = % LEL
4% concentration by volume = 100% LEL

Step 1: set up the equation


y 1% concentration
=
100% LEL 4% concentration

Step 2: solve for y


1% concentration
y = x 100% LEL
4% concentration

y = 25% LEL

The flammable gas is at 25% LEL.

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Describe Flammable
Gas Measurement

Example 2 A flammable gas has an LEL (Lower Explosive Limit) of 2.5%


by volume (i.e., 2.5% concentration by volume = 100% LEL). If
the sample atmosphere has a concentration of 0.5% by volume
of this gas, what is the percentage LEL of the gas?

y = % LEL
2.5 % concentration by volume = 100% LEL

Step 1: set up the equation

End of Sample
A full licensed copy of this kit includes:
Training Module and Self-Check
Knowledge Check and Answer Key
Blank Answer Sheet

April, 2004 Page 11 of 23