Certified Fire Protection for IBCs and Storage of Flammable Liquids
When IBCs replaced traditional steel drums and metal tote tanks for transporting and storing highly flammable hazardous materials in the mid-1990s, a new set of fire risks emerged.
IBCs (Intermediate Bulk Container) are large cuboid containers for liquid and free-flowing substances. When they replaced traditional steel drums and metal tote tanks for transporting and storing highly flammable hazardous materials in the mid-1990s, a new set of fire risks emerged. John LeBlanc, Vice President and Senior Engineering Technical Specialist in FM Global's Chief Engineer's Group, recalls, “Suddenly, we jumped from 55 gallons in a steel drum to 275 gallons or more in a plastic container."
In the event of a fire, an IBC can melt, thereby leaking liquid. When an intermediate bulk container (IBC) filled with flammable liquid leaks, insurance companies refer to it as an ‘unmanageable risk’. With a filling volume of 1,000 liters, an area of about 330 m² would be covered with 3 mm of flammable liquid.
What complicates matters further is the fact that while the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved IBCs for transporting flammable liquids, many assume that this approval also applies to storage.
U.S. property insurer FM Global, with its certification company FM Approvals, has addressed this issue and recently featured three products in IFP Magazine that significantly mitigate IBC fire hazards. Among them is the Minimax BWCon 1,400 FM fire protection trough that was certified by FM Approvals in 2018:
The Minimax fire protection trough is made of steel and has an integrated flame arrester. In the event of a fire, the burning liquid runs through this filter mat into the collection trough below. This combination prevents the uncontrollable spread of liquid and fire. The fire can then be extinguished, e.g. by a sprinkler system or the plant fire department, before the event develops into a major fire that threatens the existence of the plant. The tank has a total capacity of 1,400 liters. In addition to the 1,000 liters of flammable liquid from the IBC, another 400 liters of extinguishing agent can be held. This volume would be introduced by a sprinkler system during an approximate 20-minute period to extinguish the fire.
Besides the fire protection trough, FM Global certified the double-walled composite IBC from the German manufacturer Schütz in 2020 and the floor system from Houston, Texas-based Safespill back in 2017. The concept is derived from a drainage system used for helicopter landing pads in offshore oil platforms. In 2020, an enhanced version was certified for large applications such as aircraft hangars and distribution centers.
The recently introduced "LiquidProtect" sprinkler system from Minimax is not yet FM-approved but already recognized by VdS. It was developed specifically for the protection of flammable liquids in IBCs and drums stored in racks. Minimax thus provides an effective and reliable solution for the protection of flammable liquids.
Rich Ferron of FM Approvals sums up, “It has taken quite a while, but we now have FM-approved products that FM Global can recommend to its clients and that anyone in the world can purchase to address the very real fire risks associated with using IBCs in industry.”