Electrical equipment in hazardous areas



The introduction of electrical apparatus for signaling or lighting in coal mines was accompanied by electrically-initiated explosions of flammable gas and dust. Technical standards were developed to identify the features of electrical apparatus that would prevent electrical initiation of explosions due to energy or thermal effects. Several physical methods of protection are used. The apparatus may be designed to prevent entry of flammable gas or dust into the interior. The apparatus may be strong enough to contain and cool any combustion gases produced internally. Or, electrical devices may be designed so that they cannot produce a spark strong enough or temperatures high enough to ignite a specified hazardous gas. Integrating these types of motors can ensure that equipment, facilities, and workers stay protected and machinery is not damaged.
Many strategies exist for safety in electrical installations. The simplest strategy is to minimize the amount of electrical equipment installed in a hazardous area, either by keeping the equipment out of the area altogether or by making the area less hazardous by process improvements or ventilation with clean air. Intrinsic safety, or non-incendive equipment and wiring methods, is a set of practices for apparatus designed with low power levels and low stored energy. Insufficient energy is available to produce an arc that can ignite the surrounding explosive mixture. Equipment enclosures can be pressurized with clean air or inert gas and designed with various controls to remove power or provide notification in case of supply or pressure loss of such gases. Arc-producing elements of the equipment can also be isolated from the surrounding atmosphere by encapsulation, immersion in oil, sand, etc. Heat producing elements such as motor winding, electrical heaters, including heat tracing and lighting fixtures are often designed to limit their maximum temperature below the autoignition temperature of the material involved. Both external and internal temperatures are taken into consideration.
In an industrial plant such as a refinery or chemical plant, handling of large quantities of flammable liquids and gases creates a risk of leaks. In some cases the gas, ignitable vapor or dust is present all the time or for long periods. Other areas would have a dangerous concentration of flammable substances only during process upsets, equipment deterioration between maintenance periods, or during an incident. Refineries and chemical plants are then divided into areas of risk of release of gas, vapor or dust known as divisions or zones.
Explosive atmospheres have different chemical properties that affect the likelihood and severity of an explosion. Such properties include flame temperature, minimum ignition energy, upper and lower explosive limits, and molecular weight. Empirical testing is done to determine parameters such as the maximum experimental safe gap (MESG), minimum igniting current (MIC) ratio, explosion pressure and time to peak pressure, spontaneous ignition temperature, and maximum rate of pressure rise. Every substance has a differing combination of properties but it is found that they can be ranked into similar ranges, simplifying the selection of equipment for hazardous areas.
A list must be drawn up of every explosive material that is on the refinery/chemical complex and included in the site plan of the classified areas. The above groups are formed in order of how explosive the material would be if it was ignited, with IIC being the most explosive Zone system gas group and IIA being the least. The groups also indicate how much energy is required to ignite the material by energy or thermal effects, with IIA requiring the most energy and IIC the least for Zone system gas groups.
Some manufacturers claim "suitability" or "built-to" hazardous areas in their technical literature, but in effect lack the testing agency's certification and thus unacceptable for the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to permit operation of the electrical installation/system.
All equipment in Division 1 areas must have an approval label, but certain materials, such as rigid metallic conduit, does not have a specific label indicating the Cl./Div.1 suitability and their listing as approved method of installation in the NEC serves as the permission. Some equipment in Division 2 areas do not require a specific label, such as standard 3 phase induction motors that do not contain normally arcing components.