Prediction of Upward Flame Spread over Polymers

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Leventon, Isaac Tibor
Stoliarov, Stanislav I
In this work, the existing understanding of flame spread dynamics is enhanced through an extensive study of the heat transfer from flames spreading vertically upwards across 5 cm wide, 20 cm tall samples of extruded Poly (Methyl Methacrylate) (PMMA). These experiments have provided highly spatially resolved measurements of flame to surface heat flux and material burning rate at the critical length scale of interest, with a level of accuracy and detail unmatched by previous empirical or computational studies. Using these measurements, a wall flame model was developed that describes a flame’s heat feedback profile (both in the continuous flame region and the thermal plume above) solely as a function of material burning rate. Additional experiments were conducted to measure flame heat flux and sample mass loss rate as flames spread vertically upwards over the surface of seven other commonly used polymers, two of which are glass reinforced composite materials. Using these measurements, our wall flame model has been generalized such that it can predict heat feedback from flames supported by a wide range of materials. For the seven materials tested here – which present a varied range of burning behaviors including dripping, polymer melt flow, sample burnout, and heavy soot formation – model-predicted flame heat flux has been shown to match experimental measurements (taken across the full length of the flame) with an average accuracy of 3.9 kW m-2 (approximately 10 – 15 % of peak measured flame heat flux). This flame model has since been coupled with a powerful solid phase pyrolysis solver, ThermaKin2D, which computes the transient rate of gaseous fuel production of constituents of a pyrolyzing solid in response to an external heat flux, based on fundamental physical and chemical properties. Together, this unified model captures the two fundamental controlling mechanisms of upward flame spread – gas phase flame heat transfer and solid phase material degradation. This has enabled simulations of flame spread dynamics with a reasonable computational cost and accuracy beyond that of current models. This unified model of material degradation provides the framework to quantitatively study material burning behavior in response to a wide range of common fire scenarios.