Thermal imaging to detect spontaneous coal combustion

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In order to ensure the safety of its coal storage and handling terminal OBA, a Dutch bulk terminal company, is using thermal imaging cameras from Flir to monitor coal temperatures and detect possible self-combustion in real time. Coal can ignite spontaneously when exposed to oxygen, which causes it to react and heat up, and spontaneous combustion of coal is a common concern for coal stockyards.

The storage and handling of coal amounts to some 80 per cent of OBA’s business, with continuous coal shipments to Germany, the Northeast of France, the UK, and the Netherlands.

OBA is one of the leading dry bulk terminal companies in the ARA region (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp). The company operates from two terminals in the port of Amsterdam and is transloading several commodities, including coal, agricultural bulk goods, minerals and biomass goods.

For some coal types, it is not as much a question of whether or not self-combustion will happen, it’s a matter of when it will happen. ‘Self-combustion of coal is something we have to take into account every day,’ says Dick Meijer, Planner at OBA. ‘To prevent combustion from happening, we need to take the appropriate measures. More specifically, we send out an excavator or wheel loader to dig out and spread the suspected area. We have dedicated combustion fighting equipment that allows us to compact the area and to release the oxygen out of the coal stack.’

‘In order to minimise those costs as much as possible, we were looking for a way to monitor the temperature of our coal stock before it is loaded onto the barges. Thermal imaging turned out to be the perfect technology to do that,’ commented Meijer. ‘We already conduct weekly inspections via an external agency, but we also invested in our own thermal imaging cameras from Flir Systems to be sure that all coal that is leaving our site has a temperature that is safe to be transported.’

Meijer explained that the key advantage of thermal imaging when compared to other technologies is that thermal imaging cameras can monitor entire areas of the coal stack, not just single points in the stack. They also allow the company to observe the entire coal mass, as opposed to just the surface. He concluded: ‘Thanks to these thermal imaging cameras, we can see in time if something goes wrong and immediately take the appropriate measures.’