Ethanol Risk reduction, Part III: a Special Digest Report

June 4, 2010 |

Ethanol production and transport presents unique safety risks.  Many plants and the public are not prepared for these risks.  Ashly Insco and Evan Nyer of ARCADIS, in a three part series, will provide an overview of the safety issues with the Ethanol and alternative fuel industry.  The series includes Plant Safety, Public Safety and Transportation Safety.  These risks should be addressed during the facility planning process and not after an incident has occurred.  If you do not understand the Risks associated with the safe production and transport of your alternative fuel, then you do not understand the entire financial risks of your business plan.

As always, be sure to contact State and Local authorities as they may have additional safety requirements not addressed in these articles.

By Evan K. Nyer and Ashly Insco, ARCADIS

Transport Safety

“Ramp remains closed one day after fiery crash “ — Baltimore Sun.

“A tanker rig overturned and burst into flames yesterday evening on a curving interstate ramp over Baltimore’s South Hanover Street, killing the driver and sending a burning stream of its load of ethanol into the street below, igniting a row of parked vehicles, authorities said. The wreckage burned for more than three hours as firefighters sprayed water and foam into the flames — with the driver’s body still in the truck cab.”

Production and use for ethanol is increasing and the safest and most economical mode of distribution, pipelines are not a current option. Ethanol has an affinity for water this property results in the dissolving and carrying of impurities, which are present inside pipelines, making it harmful to automobile engines when blended with gas. Pipeline logistical limitations and insufficient volumes of ethanol to be transported are two other limiting factors [J. Whimms, Pipeline Considerations for Ethanol. Department of Agricultural Economics, Manhattan: Kansas State University. 2002.] Therefore, more ethanol is transported by rail, highway and barge.

When evaluating ethanol distribution safety risks a company must look at each mode and route traveled for ethanol movement and the unique risks posed for each. Your Company should ensure all parties involved in distribution and emergency response understand ethanol is NOT gasoline and treating a release of ethanol as gasoline will result in a greater disaster.  Ethanol acts more like a highly flammable paint solvent-very low flash point, sensitive to static discharge, and soluble in water.

The company must register with the U.S. Department of Transportation as a hazardous materials offeror and transporter. All staff assigned to managing the preparation of shipping papers, placarding, loading and transport of ethanol must be trained under the Hazardous Materials regulations per 49 CFR 172.700-704, which shall include site specific safety training as well as security plan training.  All drivers shall have proper hazardous materials transport licensure, contact the State Agency for licensure requirements. Whether the drivers are employees or contractors they should be trained in company specific emergency response and security plan procedures.

Ethanol and other alcohols do not burn like petroleum hydrocarbons.  The flame is blue, and not visible in the daylight.  Simply putting water on the flame can just spread the fire.  Alcohol fires require alcohol resistant aqueous film forming foam (AR-AFFF).

A very important part of any transportation safety and security plan is identifying access to adequate quantities of AR-AFFF.  You need to find reserves for those fire and/or emergency response departments your company identifies as responsible for response along routes where your ethanol could be released.

One suggestion is to formulate and/or facilitate agreements between larger metropolis fire departments and airport emergency response teams and volunteer fire firefighters so the AR-AFFF is there in a timely manner so as to reduce risk. This is a critical risk reduction action as many routes are along rural Mid-Western roads that pass through small towns manned by only by voluntary fire departments.  These small fire departments are usually are not equipped with AR-AFFF, nor have they been trained, in most cases, on ethanol emergency response procedures.

A partnership between industry, elected officials, the fire departments and the public will ensure public safety is maintained as alternative fuels production expands in the U.S.  When you build safety into the planning, production and distribution of ethanol the risks will be minimized.

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Category: Fuels, News Analysis

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