Metallurgical failure analysis of a propane tank boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE)
A severe fire and explosion occurred at a propane storage yard in Truth or Consequences, N.M., when a truck ran into the pumping and plumbing system beneath a large propane tank. The storage tank emptied when the liquid-phase excess flow valve tore out of the tank. The ensuing fire engulfed several propane delivery trucks, causing one of them to explode. A series of elevated-temperature stress-rupture tears developed along the top of a 9800 L (2600 gal) truck-mounted tank as it was heated by the fire. Unstable fracture then occurred suddenly along the length of the tank and around both end caps, along the girth welds connecting the end caps to the center portion of the tank. The remaining contents of the tank were suddenly released, aerosolized, and combusted, creating a powerful boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE). Based on metallography of the tank pieces, the approximate tank temperature at the onset of the BLEVE was determined. Metallurgical analysis of the ruptured tank also permitted several hypotheses regarding BLEVE mechanisms to be evaluated. Suggestions are made for additional work that could provide improved predictive capabilities regarding BLEVEs and for methods to decrease the susceptibility of propane tanks to BLEVEs.
KeywordsBLEVE creep rupture metallography microstructure pressure vessel steel propane tank
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