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Preventing Explosions: How do Powder Flows Electrify?

Project description

Relegating the 'powder keg' to a thing of the past

More than 70 % of powders processed in industrial plants are combustible. The potential for explosion and fire imposes significant risks not only of financial losses but also injuries and fatalities. Even flour and grain dust have led to catastrophic explosions in mills, often caused by electrostatic discharges. However, characterising and quantifying the rate at which powder flows charge remain a significant challenge. The EU-funded PowFEct project is building on the first-ever simulations that coupled fluid mechanics, surface science and electrostatics successfully revealing that distinct flow mechanisms determine the charging rate of powder. The current work will significantly enhance our understanding through a cycle of experimental and theoretical methodologies leading to the development of a theoretical model and an open-source tool to support safer powder processing in a variety of industrial applications.


The electrification of powder flows is one of the most pervasive phenomena in environmental processes and of tremendous importance for technical applications. In industrial plants, excessive electrostatic charges can even lead to hazardous sparks, which have caused numerous catastrophic dust explosions in the past. However, despite its long history of investigation, it is not currently possible to predict the buildup, transport, and accumulation of charge.

Starting from 2015, I developed a numerical approach with the important capability to couple the involved scientific disciplines – fluid mechanics (turbulent carrier flow), surface science (triboelectric particle charging), and electrostatics (forces between charges). The first ever fully-resolved simulations revealed that the occurrence of distinct physical flow mechanisms determines the charging rate of powder. This knowledge opens a new way to control the electrification through triggering these mechanisms and, thus, to solve the problem finally. To this end, this proposal aims to develop a novel interdisciplinary computational tool. This task includes establishing several new numerical concepts, such as a single-particle charging model. Beyond the state-of-the-art single-particle and powder flow electrification experiments which both employ innovative measurement methodologies will support the theoretical efforts. The proposed test set-ups will bring about a paradigm shift by quantifying, for the first time, reproducible, facility independent data, tailored specifically to complement the model formulation.

The successful project will provide an open-source tool that enables the prediction, evaluation, and limitation of electrostatic charges. To this respect, the research aims not only to prevent accidents in industrial facilities but also to understand the physics of other kinds of electrifying powder flows and to solve a long-standing scientific riddle.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 471 225,00
Bundesallee 100
38116 Braunschweig

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Niedersachsen Braunschweig Braunschweig, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Research Organisations
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)