Is Ethane Flammable?

In this blog post, we will answer the question, “is ethane flammable?”. We will also discuss what ethane is, ethane uses, ethane explosion, how to extinguish fire caused by ethane, and how to store and handle ethane safely.

Is ethane flammable?

Yes. Ethane is Flammable. Ethane has a flash point of -135°C or -211°F. This means that once the temperature hits -135oC or -211oF, ethane will generate a vapor in the air around its surface that will momentarily ignite when exposed to an open flame. 

This temperature is extraordinarily low, which makes ethane extremely flammable. Thus, ethane is in its gas form at room temperature and readily catches fire when there is even the slightest spark. 

A leak in the tank might release flammable ethane fumes, posing an explosive re-ignition risk. Ethane can be ignited at a distance away from its handling point by pilot lights, static discharge, electrical equipment, heaters, sparks, smoking, or other fire.

What is ethane?

The chemical formula of ethane is C2H6. It is a colorless, odorless, and gaseous hydrocarbon. Structure-wise, ethane is the only hydrocarbon with a single carbon–carbon bond other than methane. 

Ethane is one of the most significant elements of natural gas. It is also found in petroleum oils and as a byproduct of oil refinery processes and coal carbonization.

What are the uses of ethane?

When heated, ethane may be easily transformed into ethylene (C2H4) and hydrogen (H2) through pyrolysis or cracking. This makes ethane a valuable industrial commodity. 

Propellant basic materials for the vast ethylene petrochemical sector include ethylene glycol and ethyl alcohol, as well as propane and, to a lesser extent, butane.

Can ethane cause an explosion?

Yes. Ethane can cause an explosion. An ethane container or tank may explode if there is a heat of a fire. 

It can happen because ethane is commonly in its gas form, whose molecules move quickly and freely in the tank. Thus, the ethane gas molecules collide frequently both with each other and with the tank walls. 

When heat is applied, it gives energy to these gas molecules to move more rapidly and make more collisions than before. It makes the pressure inside the tank jump to the roof, which leads to an explosion.   

As a hydrocarbon, ethane may also spontaneously combust and cause a fire or explosion with the presence of air or other oxidizing agents (such as peroxide, permanganate, and chlorates). 

In other words, combustion occurs when the temperature increases to a level at which hydrocarbon molecules react impulsively with an oxidizer. There is a loud boom and a rise in pressure due to this hydrocarbon explosion.

How to extinguish fire caused by ethane?

Unless gas flow can be quickly blocked, ethane fires must not be extinguished. Therefore, the gas supply must be shut off first, and the gas may be allowed to burn out. 

Consider if water spray might help disperse gas or vapor to protect workers trying to block the leak. Water can be used to cool down equipment, surfaces, and containers that have been exposed to fire and high heat. 

An unmanned hose holder or monitor nozzle may be helpful in major fires to reduce the risk of worker exposure.

Block a particular region, notably at the ends of storage containers. Let the vessel, tank vehicle, or container catch fire unless the leak is halted. If you hear a mounting sound from a venting safety device, leave immediately. 

Specially trained individuals and equipment are required to control and extinguish huge flames. 

The use of pressure-demand self-contained breathing equipment with a complete facepiece and protective apparel certified by NIOSH/MSHA is required for firefighting actions that might lead to extreme heat exposure, smoke, or harmful combustion byproducts.

Combustion byproducts of ethane include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides, and ethylene. Suffocation can occur as a result of inhaling these toxic fumes. 

To ensure safety, never enter a burning building without suitable protective gear, including breathing protection.

Conclusion

In this blog post, we have discussed that ethane is an extremely flammable gaseous hydrocarbon. It can also cause an explosion when exposed to air or other oxidizing agents. 

When there is a fire caused by ethane, do not extinguish it unless the flow has been completely blocked. We have also discussed the safety cautions to handle and store ethane safely. 

Please feel free to comment down below if you have any questions about ethane flammability. 

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs): Is Ethane Flammable? 

How to handle ethane safely?

To handle ethane safely, follow these precautions below:

  • Maintain a safe distance from sources of ignition, such as sparks, open flames, heat, hot surfaces, and more.
  • Smoking is not permitted in the workplace.
  • Only work with non-sparking instruments.
  • Always make use of explosion-proof gear.
  • Leather hand protection and safety shoes are both recommended.
  • Do not pull, slide, roll, or drop cylinders to prevent physical damage.
  • Always maintain the valve cover in place while moving the cylinder.
  • Caps are there only to protect the valve; therefore never try to pick up a cylinder by the cap.
  • A cart (trolley, hand truck, etc.) specifically meant to move cylinders should be used to transfer them, even over small distances.
  • If you try to open a cap with a tool (such as a wrench, screwdriver, or pry bar), you risk damaging the valve and creating a leak. 

Adjustable strap wrenches can be used to remove corroded or overtight caps. Open the valve slowly. If it is difficult to open, stop using it and call the manufacturer.

  • The container valve should be closed after each use, even when the container is empty.
  • Never place the container near a flame or apply heat to a container area. It is possible that high temperatures may damage the container and that the pressure control device will fail prematurely, releasing the contents of the container.
  • Grounding is required for all piped systems and accompanying equipment.
  • Never use a flame to check for leaks; instead, use soapy water.
  • Ethane may have anesthetic properties.
  • Before smoking, eating, or drinking, use mild soap and water to clean your hands and any other exposed areas thoroughly.
  • Ethane gas should not be inhaled.
  • Ethane must be handled with the appropriate pipeline and equipment at high pressures. Working with a pressurized system is dangerous.
  • Ensure that the pipe has a backflow preventer.
  • Storing and using gases with appropriate ventilation prevents sudden death from a lack of oxygen.
  • If there is leak, shut the tank valve and blow the system down in a secure and ecologically responsible way according to all international, federal/national, state/provincial, and local legislation; then, fix the leak.

How to store ethane safely?

  • Do not store in an area where the temperature will rise beyond 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius).
  • In storage and usage spaces, display signs reading “No Smoking/No Open Flames.”
  • Avoid any ignition sources. 

Make sure all packages are separated and protected from possible fire or explosion damage by adhering to suitable standards and specifications (such as NFPA 30 in the United States) or by the Authority Having Jurisdiction’s regulations (such as NFPA 221 in the United Kingdom) (AHJ).

  • To prevent containers from dropping or being bumped over, always secure them upright.
  • When the container is not being used, install the valve protection cap securely with your hands.
  • Empty and full containers should be kept apart.
  • To avoid holding full containers for lengthy periods, use a first-in, first-out inventory system
  • A container should never be placed near an electrical circuit.

References

https://www.britannica.com/science/ethane
https://www.britannica.com/science/fire-combustion
https://amp.generalair.com/MsdsDocs/PA45922S.pdf

Paik, J. K., Czujko, J., Kim, B. J., Seo, J. K., Ryu, H. S., Ha, Y. C., … Musial, B. (2011). Quantitative assessment of hydrocarbon explosion and fire risks in offshore installations. Marine Structures, 24(2), 73–96.

https://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/0834.pdf

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