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Early fire detection and targeted suppression in the waste and recycling sector

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fire detection in waste and recycling industry

Lithium-ion batteries – the scale of the problem:

Lithium-ion batteries causing fires in the waste stream is a well-worn topic. However, now and then, you stumble across a piece of data, which makes you sit up and blink. Here are two of the most shocking examples I’ve encountered recently:

  1. A recent test by Fisacon, burning an e-scooter battery. “During the test, battery parts flew around at about 300 metres/second. For comparison: a 9mm bullet reaches around 360 metres/ second. Anyone hit by a glowing battery cell can expect serious injuries.” That’s probably the most compelling reason I’ve heard why your site staff shouldn’t be tackling these fires themselves.

  2. A study by Material Focus in September 2023 concluded that 30 million vapes were consumed every month in the UK, of which 33% ended up in general waste. Taking those figures, that’s approximately 9.9 million vapes improperly entering recycling facilities every month!

This data doesn’t cover the other batteries entering the waste stream, from greetings cards to EV batteries. It is a small wonder then that the recycling industry has a ‘fire problem’.

It’s no wonder, too, that insurers are taking a hard look at their risks in the recycling sector. One insurer told me that they had seen a tenfold increase in fire losses at recycling facilities over five years.

Thus, the familiar question arises: What can we do about it?

Layers of Protection:

Good fire safety consists of layers of protection. There is no single ‘panacea’ solution which covers all scenarios.

Site/plant design and layout, stockpile management and housekeeping all play as much of a role as your fire detection and suppression systems.

However, investment in proper fire protection systems is also key. Trained site operators can often play a key role in ensuring a successful outcome from a fire incident – but they should never be your primary firefighting ‘asset’. There is a multitude of reasons for this, but here are two of the most pertinent:

  • Firstly, there is a safety concern. The hazards of approaching a battery pack that could explode, sending cells heading your way at 300m/s, are obvious. However, the more insidious risk is the highly toxic gases released during combustion, including hydrogen fluoride (HF) and phosphoryl fluoride. Nobody should expose themselves to these gases without proper protection.
  • Secondly, a site operator-led response relies on the right people with the right training/equipment, at the right place, and at the right time. If those criteria don’t always align, your fire response will be inevitably flawed.
fire rover system in waste and recycling sector

Different risk areas (tipping/storage, shredders, conveyors, bunkers, etc.) require different types of detection and suppression, which we can’t cover in detail in this article. However, the tipping/storage area is one of the key risk areas common across most recycling plants.

Fire Protection For Tipping & Storage Areas:

For these areas (generally characterised by a dynamic storage layout, high-roof buildings, natural ventilation, high humidity and dust), the best form of protection is almost invariably achieved by using water cannons.

  • Water cannons (when used correctly) are targeted, precise and use limited water – minimising fire water runoff.
  • Heat-activated sprinklers (which some insurers still advocate for) are slow to respond until a fire is established, losing the opportunity to suppress a small risk.
  • Zoned deluge systems are only appropriate for areas with clearly defined storage bunkers and proper fire breaks. At that, they are only appropriate for smaller risk areas as otherwise the flow rate becomes unworkable.

Our Fire Rover system utilises advanced forms of early detection and targeted use of water cannons to detect and suppress a fire before it has a chance of becoming established. Unique to the Fire Rover system are the three simple commitments we can make to our clients:

1) Early detection – with zero false alarms

Automatic water cannon systems utilise various forms of fire detection. Fire Rover uses three systems: thermal, video smoke detection and flame detection. Each detection method complements the strengths and weaknesses of the others.

Each detection method is also prone to false alarms. After all:

  • A hot exhaust could activate a thermal detector.
  •  A steamy pile of waste or a cloud of dust could activate a video smoke detector.
  • Certain hot works conditions could activate a flame detector.

Our unique approach utilises remote human verification of every single alarm that occurs on the system. Only confirmed and actionable events will ever be escalated to raise an alarm at your facility. This guarantees you a sensitive detection system with zero false alarms.

2) Targeted Suppression

There are many ways to activate a target and spray a water cannon. That’s the easy part.

The hard part is doing so safely. What if a staff member is already trying to fight the fire? Or if an explosive incident results in multiple fires? Or if, in external conditions, a sidewind deflects the water spray?

Our unique approach is to target, activate and direct the cannon using our remote, highly trained human operator.

This brings three key benefits: an intelligent dynamic response to each incident, safety for your operators, and efficient use of fire fighting water rather than a programmed system’s ‘spray and pray’ approach.

2) Fully Maintained

These complex fire-fighting systems require regular maintenance and full system uptime.

We take away the headache of maintaining your fire system. That’s done for you. Any parts that fail? They’re covered under our catch-all warranty for the lifetime of the system.

Fire Rover’s Proven Track Record

We have a proven track record of success with over 600 Fire Rover installations globally (mainly in recycling facilities). In 2023 alone, Fire Rover remote operators extinguished 183 fires at clients’ facilities (with a 100% success rate).

In conclusion

Fires at recycling facilities are not going away any time soon. Even if we put batteries aside, there are plenty of other risks that end up in the recycling stream with improperly disposed gas canisters, solvents, or even just the mechanical risks associated with shredding.

Each area of your recycling process must be properly risk-assessed to find the correct fire protection solution. Generally, the correct fire protection solution for your facility will combine several systems for various risk areas.

Contact us at Blazequel today to discuss your facility and how we can help make your recycling facility safer!

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