Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention

, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp 65–74 | Cite as

Metallurgical failure analysis of a propane tank boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE)

  • D. F. Susan
  • K. H. Eckelmeyer
  • A. C. Kilgo
Peer Reviewed Articles


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.


BLEVE creep rupture metallography microstructure pressure vessel steel propane tank 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    C. Anderson and E.B. Norris: “Fragmentation and Metallurgical Analysis of Tank Car RAX 201,” FRA-OR&D75-30, Ballistic Research Labs, Aberdeen, MD, Aug 1974.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    D.J. Kielec and A.M. Birk: “Analysis of Fire-Induced Rupturcs of 400-L Propanc Tanks,” J. Pressure Vessel Technol. (Trans. ASME), Aug 1997, 119, p. 365.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J.E.S. Venart: “Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosions (BLEVE): Possible Failure Mechanisms,” ASTM Special Tech. Pub. 1336, 1998, pp. 112–32.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    K. Moodie, L.T. Cowley, R.B. Denny, L.M. Small, and I. Williams: “Fire Engulfment Tests of a 5 Tonne LPG Tank,” J. Hazard. Mater., 1988, 20, pp. 55–71.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    A.M. Birk: “Thermal Protection of Pressure Vessels by Internal Wall Cooling During Pressure Relief,” J. Pressure Vessel Technol. (Trans. ASME), 1990, 112, pp. 427–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    K. Sumathipala, J.E.S. Venart, and F.R. Steward: “Two-Phase Swelling and Entrainment during Pressure Relief Valve Discharges,” J. Hazard. Mater., 1990, 25, pp. 219–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    C.M. Pietersen: “Analysis of the LPG Disaster in Mexico City,” J. Hazard. Mater., 1988, 20, pp. 85–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    H.S. Pearson and R.G. Dooman: Fracture Analysis of Propane Tank Explosion, Case Histories Involving Fatigue and Fracture Mechanics, STP 918, C.M. Hudson and T.P. Rich, ed., American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, PA, 1986, pp. 65–77.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    J.M. Herrera and S.W. Stafford: “A Failure Analysis Case Study on a Ruptured Propane Tank,” Mater. Des., 1987, 8(5), pp. 278–83.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A.M. Birk, Queens University, Canada, private communication, May 2005.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    A.M. Birk and M.H. Cunningham: “A Medium-Scale Experimental Study of the Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE),” TP11995E, Transport Canada, 1994.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    A.M. Birk and M.H. Cunningham: “Liquid Temperature Stratification and Its Effect on BLEVEs and Their Hazards, J. Hazard. Mater., 1996, 48, pp. 219–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    A.M. Birk et al.: “Fire Tests of Propane Tanks to Study BLEVEs and Other Thermal Ruptures: Detailed Analysis of Medium-Scale Test Results,” Transport Canada, 1995.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    C. Oren: “Prediction of Ductilities and Press Loads of Steel at Warm Working Temperatures,” Metal Working and Steel Processing XIV, American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers, 1976.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© ASM International 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. F. Susan
    • 1
  • K. H. Eckelmeyer
    • 1
  • A. C. Kilgo
    • 1
  1. 1.Sandia National LaboratoriesAlbuquerque

Personalised recommendations