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Spontaneous combustion is a type of combustion which occurs without an external ignition source.

Contents

How spontaneous combustion occurs

  1. A substance with a relatively low ignition temperature begins to release heat, which may occur in several ways, such as oxidation or fermentation.
  2. The heat is unable to escape, and the temperature of the material rises
  3. The temperature of the material rises above its ignition point
  4. Combustion begins if a sufficiently strong oxidizer, such as oxygen, is present.

Pyrophoric substances

The element sodium is an example of a pyrophoric material which can undergo a kind of spontaneous (and potentially very violent) explosion when exposed to oxygen, water, or moisture in the air. Pyrophoric substances have an autoignition temperature below room temperature and often require mere contact with air or water in order to spontaneously ignite. A characteristic of pyrophoric materials is also their large specific surface of contact with air. Raney nickel is pyrophoric because of the very fine size of its particles.

Some materials which can spontaneously combust

A large compost pile can spontaneously combust if not properly managed.
  • Haystacks, compost piles and unprocessed cotton may self-ignite because of heat produced by bacterial fermentation. [1][2]
  • Grain dust in a hot metal silo can explode violently, destroying the structure.
  • Linseed oil in a partially confined space (such as a pile of oil-soaked rags left out in an uncovered container) can oxidize leading to a buildup of heat and thus ignition. [3][4]
  • Coal can spontaneously ignite when exposed to oxygen which causes it to react and heat up when there is insufficient ventilation for cooling. [5]
  • Pyrite oxidation is often the cause of coal spontaneous ignition in old Mine tailings.
  • Pistachio nuts are highly flammable when stored in large quantities, and are prone to self-heating and spontaneous combustion.[6]
  • People have also been reported as spontaneously combusting. However the phenomenon is not considered true spontaneous combustion, as it is largely attributed to the wick effect, whereby an external source of fire ignites nearby flammable materials and human fat.
  • Large cow manure piles can spontaneously combust during conditions of extreme heat.

References

  1. ^ "Spontaneous Combustion in Hay Stacks". http://www.wa-hay.org/publications/Spontaneous%20Combustion%20in%20Hay%20Stacks.pdf. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  2. ^ "Spontaneous combustion in compost piles". http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex10721. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  3. ^ "Fire - Reflectors". Wildwood Survival. http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/fire/spontaneouscombustion/rbjul05/index.html. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  4. ^ [1],
  5. ^ U. S. Department of Energy (May 1993). "EH-93-4 The Fire Below: Spontaneous Combustion in Coal". Press release. http://www.saftek.net/worksafe/bull94.txt. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  6. ^ "Pistachio Nuts". http://www.tis-gdv.de/tis_e/ware/nuesse/pistazie/pistazie.htm#selbsterhitzung. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 

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