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Forest Products Laboratory
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726-2398
Phone: (608) 231-9200
Fax: (608) 231-9592


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Scientists Determine Critical Factors that Caused Peroxide Explosion in Paper Mill

FPL research looks to improve the safety of pulp bleaching at paper mills. Thinkstock
FPL research looks to improve the safety of pulp bleaching at paper mills. Thinkstock
Snapshot: In 2001, a peroxide bleach stage at a paper mill in Evadale, Texas, exploded, rupturing two bleaching towers, destroying a pump, and propelling fragments over 800 yards in all directions. There were no fatalities in this incident, but unfortunately, two workers in the mill were injured. With hundreds of peroxide bleach stages operating throughout the world, why did this one suddenly explode

Hydrogen peroxide is a very high energy compound that has been safely handled in the paper industry for decades without serious incidents. A previous collaboration between scientists at MeadWestvaco and the Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisc., identified a sequence of events that likely led to the explosion, but the limited literature data reduced the reliability of the kinetic modeling results. Scientists needed experimental data at higher temperatures and higher peroxide concentrations to understand the explosion. Additional research determined the critical factors controlling alkaline catalyzed decomposition of peroxide. Experiments were carried out at temperatures and chemical concentrations of typical industrial processes. Several experiments resulted in autoaccelerating reactions that, if contained, would have exploded. By varying temperature and concentration in the experiments, the researchers were able to develop a much more reliable kinetic model that mimicked the laboratory experiments and the known events leading up to the Evadale explosion. Using this model researchers developed guidelines to help mills avoid this dangerous reaction in hopes of preventing a repeat of this catastrophe in the future.
Princpal Investigator(s):
 Houtman, Carl J.

Research Location:
  • Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin

External Partners:
  • MeadWestvaco

Fiscal Year: 2013
Highlight ID: 448
Related Research Emphasis Areas: