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The storage of large quantities of organic material always carry the risk of spontaneous combustion and fire. With Europe’s commitment to bioenergy through initiatives, like the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, this is a growing problem. For energy producers in this sector, such an outbreak is not only a major health and safety issue but also one that involves loss of raw material and production downtime.

Thermal imaging has already proved its value in securing wide-ranging critical infrastructures against fire and intrusion and is now becoming established in the renewables sector too. A good example is a Swedish energy provider that has minimised its risk with the installation of FLIR A-Series thermal imaging cameras from the company’s Automation & Industrial Safety Division.

Söderengi produces both heat and electrical power by burning biofuels and recovered fuels. Its output provides district heating to a large area of Stockholm and sufficient energy to power 100,000 homes.  At its fuel terminal, just outside the city, forestry waste and wood chips are stored in massive piles.  In common with many other biofuel producers, it relied on visual monitoring and temperature probes to detect elevating temperatures and prevent fire.

One of the main problems associated with this method was the cost of the man hours it took to do the job thoroughly and reliably.  Also, a probe only provides spot temperature measurement, it does not enable the inspector to see the thermal profile of the entire heap of organic material. So, in 2015, the company decided to explore a more efficient detection system, one that monitored the stock piles continually and generated alarms before the situation reached a crisis point.  The goal was also to gain insight of how spontaneous fires develop, in order to be better prepared.

The tender was won by Termisk Systemteknik, a FLIR distributor that specialised in integrating fire prevention and detection systems for indoor and outdoor use.  One of its flagship products is TST Fire, an early fire detection system that continuously analyses the thermal camera stream in real time and generates an alarm when a pre-defined temperature threshold has been exceeded.  Through sophisticated video analytics, the system is also able to minimise false alarms, such as vehicles moving in the field of view.

To monitor the entire eight-hectare biofuel site, twelve fixed FLIR A615 automation cameras were specified and Termisk was able to use the existing lighting infrastructure for the installation. This model of camera was selected for its proven reliability and high resolution which, in turn, allowed the number of units needed to scan the whole area to be reduced.

The result was a very economical installation, not just because that fewer cameras were needed but also the FLIR cameras were able to perform multiple applications.

The TST Fire system with integrated FLIR cameras can also be used to detect people both from a security and safety perspective.  The benefit of using thermal imaging for this purpose is that it can monitor the scene during the day and night, without the need for illumination. The technology is also unaffected by the harshest weather conditions.

Fuel management at the site is a complex task as different types of biofuel are transported via rail or ship according to customer need.  FLIR thermal imaging can help in this regard too by monitoring the temperature of the fuel. For example, the thermal information can result in one fuel being given shipment priority over another to reduce fire risk.

Claes Nelson of Termisk concludes: “The information from the FLIR cameras is continuously combined with wind, temperature and precipitation data from the weather station.  The system allows the operators to see how long certain types of fuel can be stored and this is invaluable information as it allows them to work much more efficiently.”

FLIR Systems specialises in technologies that enhance perception and awareness.  The company brings innovative sensing solutions into daily life through its thermal imaging and visible light imaging technology and systems for measurement, diagnosis, location and advanced threat detection.  Its products improve the way people interact with the world around them, enhance productivity, increase energy efficiency and make the workplace safer.

FLIR Systems has six operating segments – surveillance, instruments, OEM and emerging markets, maritime, security and finally, detection. Of these six, ‘instruments’ is of greatest interest to trade and industry and the second largest segment in the company’s portfolio. This division provides devices that image, measure and assess thermal energy, gases and other environmental elements for industrial, commercial and scientific applications.

These products are manufactured across five production sites, three in the USA and two in Europe; Sweden and Estonia.

A model to suit every application and budget
The options that FLIR Systems provides for measuring temperature and studying thermal performance have never been greater.  Not only does the company offer a huge range of models to suit all thermal application needs but the technology is also affordable and very easy to use.  Thermal cameras now come in various shapes, sizes and degrees of sophistication and FLIR continues to invest heavily in the development of new and complementary technologies to differentiate itself from competitors.

An important milestone in the development of thermal imaging has been the introduction of the FLIR Lepton® core, a micro longwave detector, the size of a mobile SIM.  This has allowed thermal imaging to be repackaged to meet the needs of an even wider audience and, in combination with another new technology called Infrared Guided Measurement – IGM™ – has led to the development of a range of test and measurement meters with imaging capability.

Another important growth area for FLIR thermal imaging is in continuous monitoring to assure quality and safety.  Through its introduction of discrete fixed mounted thermal cameras which are fully compliant industry standard plug-and-play protocols, FLIR Systems has provided industry with infrared machine vision which is instantly ready for quick and easy network installation.

Protecting assets and people from fire is an area for which thermal imaging is least known but, thanks to FLIR Systems’ development, it is now one of the most cost-effective methods available.  Its application flexibility and rapid return on investment present an attractive proposition for any site or safety manager.

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