Carbon dioxide is a clean gaseous agent, in plentiful supply and can be stored in either high pressure cylinders or low pressure tanks. It has been used effectively as a fire extinguishing gas since the early 1900’s.Carbon dioxide continues to be used in numerous applications around the world for the extinguishment of flammable liquid fires, gas fires, electrically energized fires and, to a lesser degree, fires involving ordinary cellulosic materials such as paper and cloth.

Carbon dioxide can effectively suppress fires of most materials with the exception of active metals, metal hydrides, and materials containing their own oxygen source, such as cellulose nitrate. The use of carbon dioxide is limited primarily by the factors influencing its method of application and its intrinsic health hazards.

Extinguishing Mechanism of Carbon Dioxide

Flame extinguishment by carbon dioxide is predominantly by a thermophysical mechanism in which reacting gases are prevented from achieving a temperature high enough to maintain the free radical population necessary for sustaining the flame chemistry.

For inert gases presently used as fire suppression agents (argon, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and mixtures of these), the extinguishing concentration (As measured by the cup burner method (NFPA 2001)) is observed to be linearly related to the heat capacity of the agent-air mixture.

Applications

Carbon dioxide is used internationally in marine applications in engine rooms, paint lockers, vehicle transport areas on cargo vessels, and in flammable liquid storage areas. Large marine engine room systems may require as much as 20,000 lb of carbon dioxide per system. Carbon dioxide fire suppression systems are currently being used by the U.S. Navy and in commercial shipping applications.

The steel and aluminum industries also rely heavily on carbon dioxide fire protection. In the aluminum industry, for example, the rolling mill process requires the use of kerosene-like lubricants and coolants. Fires are prevalent in this application, occurring on the average of 1 per week in the typical aluminum plant. One particular aluminum processing company averages about 600 system discharges per year worldwide in all their fire protection applications using carbon dioxide, such as rolling mills, control rooms, and aluminum sheet printing. Many carbon dioxide systems in the metal processing industry are rapid discharge local application systems. In these applications, the carbon dioxide storage containers are located close to the outlet nozzles such that liquid carbon dioxide starts to discharge from the nozzle(s) in under 5 seconds. These local application carbon dioxide systems range in size from 800 to 10,000 lb of compressed carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide systems also are used in computer rooms (subfloor), wet chemistry benches, particle board chippers, equipment dust collectors, printing presses, cable trays, electrical rooms, motor control centers, switch gear locations, paint spray booths, hooded industrial fryers, high-voltage transformers, nuclear power facilities, waste storage facilities, aircraft cargo areas, and vehicle parking areas (Willms 1998, Wysocki 1998). Small carbon dioxide systems, such as those protecting paint lockers or fryers, use approximately 50 lb of carbon dioxide. Other systems use an average of about 300 to 500 lb of carbon dioxide, but can use as much as 2,500 lb.

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