By on October 27, 2008

For some time now, firefighters have warned of the challenge of extinguishing ethanol fires. Because ethanol cannot be piped due to its corrosive properties, large quantities are delivered by tanker truck or rail car. Pure ethanol can burn at a temperature as low as 55 degrees F (12.8 degrees C). Even when highly diluted in water ethanol remains flammable at higher temperatures. Since oceanic quantities of water would be required to extinguish a large ethanol fire, special retardant foams are generally used– but not readily available (= hours) to many fire departments. Even with that foam, a big ethanol fire can take days to extinguish; the holding tank often burns to the ground. (At least pure ethanol burns cleanly, leaving behind just water and carbon dioxide.) A NIMBY situation arose this spring in the heart of highly populated Alexandria, VA. (FYI, that’s communist country per First Brother wannabe Joe McCain.) Ethanol rail cars started offloading their cargo back in April 2008, but local fire departments didn’t get the appropriate flame-retardant foam for another month afterwards. There’s lots of finger pointing going on, with the city of Alexandria blaming rail company Norfolk Southern for slipping ethanol shipment in without notification.

Norfolk Southern claims that city officials didn’t communicate properly, and federal law allows railroads to move freight across state lines without much regard to local governments’ say in the matter. Needless to say, this matter has gone to court. So, what to do if you’re involved the unlikely event of an E85 fire? E85 is not as dangerous due to gasoline dilution, the flash point (temperature of combustion) being higher, but too should not be fought with water. Guidelines here suggest chemical extinguishers marked B, C, BC, or ABC.

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2 Comments on “E85 Boondoggle Of The Day: Burn Baby Burn!...”

  • avatar

    Think of the carbon footprint of those ethanol fires! Please, someone save the children!

    Really… unfortunately ethanol is not about solving our energy needs (if so, why the tariffs on cheap sugar-based ethanol from Brazil?). It seems that American ethanol is more about government hand-outs and vote buying in corn growing states (my own included), and as well taking advantage politically of creating higher food prices.

    Of course with oil prices coming down, it must be those evil oil companies in a plot to keep us all hooked on oil! Again, save the children!

  • avatar

    The article doesn’t say that Norfolk Southern is blaming city officials for failure to communicate, it says that city officials are blaming each other and themselves for failure to communicate. The railroad did what it was supposed to – it notified the city of what was going to happen. If the city was slow to take the appropriate precautions, that’s on the city. NS should have been checking to make sure the city was doing its job – and they may very well have done so – but NS can’t be expected to hold the city’s hand, either.

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