FLIR cameras enable timely detection and localisation of self-combusting coals

Thermal imaging cameras from FLIR Systems have been installed by a Dutch company at their Amsterdam port terminal to monitor coal temperatures and prevent spontaneous combustion hazards.

Spontaneous combustion, or spon com,  is a serious concern in any place where large amounts of coal are stored or loaded. OBA, the Dutch dry bulk terminal company decided to employ FLIR thermal imaging cameras to ensure the safety of its coal storage and handling terminal, as well as safeguard its investment through continuous monitoring of coal temperatures.

One of the leading dry bulk terminal companies in the ARA region (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp), OBA operates from two terminals in the port of Amsterdam, transferring and loading several commodities including coal, agricultural bulk goods, minerals, and biomass goods. The storage and handling of coal amount to roughly 80 percent of OBA’s business, with round-the-clock shipments being made to Germany, the Northeast of France, the UK, and the Netherlands.

Spontaneous combustion is a major risk in coal stockyards – when coal is exposed to oxygen, its temperature rises, causing ignition. Dick Meijer, Planner at OBA explains that they have to factor in coal’s self-combustion tendencies every day, by taking the appropriate measures for prevention. For instance, they use an excavator or wheel loader to dig out and spread the suspected area, and have also installed dedicated combustion fighting equipment that allows them to compact the area and release the oxygen out of the coal stack.

Reaction time is a critical aspect of the prevention strategy because coal combustion will not only amount to high expenses resulting from energy and stock loss, but can also have safety and environmental implications.

Seeking a solution to monitor the temperature of their coal stack before being loaded onto the barges, OBA turned to thermal imaging technology, investing in their own thermal imaging cameras from FLIR Systems in addition to weekly inspections by an external agency to be sure that all the coal leaving the terminal was safe for transport.

Thermal imaging cameras offer a distinct advantage over other solutions due to their ability to monitor entire areas of the coal stack. When the coal is on the conveyor belt, thermal imaging cameras allow OBA to read the entire coal mass temperature, not just the temperature at the coal surface, enabling them to take instant preventive action.

As part of a multilateral agreement between various EU countries, it is mandatory that the temperature of a coal load before, during, and directly after the loading process should be below 60°C. Therefore, every load of coal that leaves the Amsterdam terminal for Germany needs to be backed with a valid temperature monitoring certificate, a condition that is met by FLIR thermal cameras.

The OBA terminal is now equipped with three rugged FLIR A310f cameras, each camera positioned on a tower with a wide view overlooking several conveyor belts that deliver the coal to barges. By positioning the thermal imaging cameras as close to the barges as possible, OBA can visualise the entire conveyor belt stretch (up to 900m) and monitor the coal temperatures up to the last second before loading, preventing the risk of a combustion incident onboard.

The FLIR A310f is a highly sensitive, high-speed camera in an environmental housing, which increases the camera’s environmental specification to IP66. The thermal video images are sent over IP to a central control room where they are continuously monitored. Operators make use of a proprietary software system that offers intuitive colour codes to communicate about the real-time status of the coal loads.

OBA also uses a temperature probe and a FLIR E6 handheld thermal imaging camera to inspect the large coal piles each week. While the probe will measure pinpoint temperature, the E6 and A310f infrared cameras show temperature patterns and provide measurements for a larger area. 

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