Public safety and transporting ethanol

Public safety and transporting ethanol | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, 151 biorefineries in the United States produce nearly 8.7 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Another 51 refineries are under construction and 7 are being expanded, all of which is projected to increase ethanol production by another 5 billion gallons annually.

But the ability of fire, rescue, and hazmat teams to understand and effectively respond to potential ethanol emergencies hasn’t grown with the industry’s ability to produce and distribute the product.

Ethanol presents firefighters with several unique challenges. For instance, ethanol fires cannot be put out with water; instead, they must be smothered with the careful application of alcohol-resistant foams. In addition, once the gasoline mixed into E-95 (95-percent ethanol, 5-percent gasoline) and E-85 (85-percent ethanol, 15-percent gasoline) burns off, the pure alcohol flame becomes almost invisible to the eye. Ethanol vapor is also flammable at a wider range of concentrations than gasoline, meaning any vapor will ignite more quickly. So if firefighters don’t bring the proper fire-suppression systems and techniques to an ethanol fire, they stand the risk of adding water and making the fire grow. …