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RTO Explosion

The Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO) is utilized in many fume control applications.  It is used in particular where high volumes of air contain small amounts of organic material that must be destroyed.  Problems, such as fire and explosions in the duct, will occur if the organic concentration gets too high.  When designing the RTO, one must pay extreme attention to detail including the operational conditions and safety requirements to prevent fires in the ductwork.  Many of these concerns also apply to the Recuperative Thermal Oxidizer (RCO).

The organic material in the waste fume stream are sent to the RTO because of environmental or odor requirements. The RTO will heat these materials to a temperature that destroys better than 95% of the materials.  The amount of destruction is a function of the design and the operational temperature.

A problem with the fume collection system is the mixing of the oxygen with the organic material.  When the concentration of the organic materials exceeds the Lower Flammability Limit (LFL), also known as Lower Explosive Limit (LEL), a fire or explosion may occur in the duct work.  Piping and blowers will rupture.  Some of the piping may travel significant distances and there is always a potential for personal injury. 

When a problem occurs in the RTO system, the detailed evaluation of the conditions prior to the explosion or fire must be performed immediately to assure that all of the operational data is available.  Standard records may not be sufficient. 

Observations of plant personnel must be taken and analyzed to determine the applicability of the statements.  Timelines of all process events at least 24 hours before the event should be fully documented.

The piping and all system components must be located to allow for their evaluation in the event of litigation.  Operational records and all employee and observer statements should be documented immediately and preserved. 

Therm-A-Cor consulting has provided forensic evaluations of RTO efficiencies, risk from explosions and explosion evaluations.  References are available apon request.


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