When a fire ignites in a wind turbine, extinguishing it without having a fire suppression system installed is immensely challenging. Typically installed in remote and inaccessible locations, with turbines often more than 100m above the ground, getting fire trucks and crews to a position where they can douse flames is unlikely. If a crew could get into position in a timely manner and have the equipment to battle the fire, which is unlikely due to the height of the turbine and limited, if any, access to water, the multi-million-pound machine is likely to still be a smoldering wreck. The ground crew will only be able to provide containment of the fire. This means that installing fire suppressions systems is all that more important.
There are various fire suppression agents, and some are better suited to wind turbines than others. The NERO team has been designing fire suppression systems for wind turbines for more than a decade, and our experts have put in countless hours evaluating these agents for wind turbines. Here we focus on just one – clean agents – and discuss why they are optimal for wind turbines.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) defines a clean agent as an electrically non-conducting, volatile, or gaseous fire extinguishant that does not leave a residue upon evaporation.
A clean agent fire suppression system uses either a chemical or inert gas to suppress a fire at the point of inception and before it really begins to take hold. It is incredibly effective at extinguishing fires involving ordinary, solid combustibles (such as wood, cardboard, and most plastics), flammable liquids and gases, and energized electrical equipment (such as appliances, wiring, and circuit breakers).
The most common types of clean agent systems use chemical agents like FM-200™ (HFC-227ea) and 3M™ Novec™ 1230 or inert gases, which are made up of gases like nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide. All clean agents are stored as either a gas or liquid, and when the system activates, it releases the clean agent as a gas to suppress the fire. Upon discharge, the clean agent removes or disrupts one of the three elements needed to sustain a fire – heat, oxygen, or the fuel source.
When it comes to suppressing a fire in a wind turbine, there are several factors to consider, among them are:
Turbines contain a wide variety of materials, from plastics to metals, flammable liquids (like oil), and energized equipment. As we have already explored, clean agents are highly effective against Class A, B, and C fires – which involve the materials cited above. This makes it a suitable suppression agent, no matter what the source of a fire might be within the turbine.
Most clean agent fire suppression systems reach extinguishing concentration levels in just 10 seconds or less, making them highly efficient in suppressing a fire before significant damage to a turbine can be done. This is crucial for protecting a highly valuable asset, which is costly to repair or replace.
Installing a fire suppression system within a turbine can not only prevent damage but downtime too. And if the suppression agent used requires minimal clean-up – as clean agents evaporate quickly – the damage can be kept to a minimum, reducing downtime – which is crucial when every megawatt that a wind turbine produces is essential.
Clean agent fire suppression systems protect valuable assets and equipment when traditional fire sprinkler systems using water or foam would create as much, if not more, damage than the fire. This is especially true with all the electrical components in a turbine. They could sustain significant damage if they become wet. Another benefit to clean agents is that they are safe to use in occupied spaces and require no clean-up after discharge.
When the worst happens, and a fire starts in a wind turbine, the last thing on your mind will be, “is what we use to put out the fire environmentally friendly?”. Given the very concept of wind energy, it is good to know that a fire suppressant is environmentally friendly. Clean agents have a short to no atmospheric life span and a low Global Warming Potential (GWP). Systems are designed around providing total flood protection for small, enclosed areas or entire rooms containing sensitive equipment.
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