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Ethanol carries a little-recognized risk

Posted by keelynet on February 29, 2008

I had never heard of this problem before, but it sheds even more light on why its not so smart to depend on ethanol to save us.

fire1.gif“The nation’s drive to use more alternative fuel carries a danger many communities have been slow to recognize: Ethanol fires are harder to put out than gasoline ones and require a special type of firefighting foam. Many fire departments around the country don’t have the foam, don’t have enough of it, or are not well-trained in how to apply it, firefighting experts say. It is also more expensive than conventional foam. The problem is that water doesn’t put out ethanol fires, and the foam that has been used since the 1960s to smother ordinary gasoline blazes doesn’t work well against the grain-alcohol fuel. Wrecks involving ordinary cars and trucks are not the major concern. They carry modest amounts of fuel, and it is typically a low-concentration, 10 percent blend of ethanol and gasoline. A large amount of conventional foam can usually extinguish such fires. Instead, the real danger involves the many tanker trucks and railcars that are rolling out of the Corn Belt with huge quantities of 85 or 95 percent ethanol and carrying it to parts of the country unaccustomed to dealing with it. Water is not used against gasoline fires, because it can spread the blaze and cause the flames to run down into drains and sewers. Instead, foam is used to form a blanket on top of the burning gasoline and snuff out of the flames. But ethanol – a type of grain alcohol often distilled from corn – eats through that foam and continues to burn. Such fires require a special alcohol-resistant foam that relies on long-chain molecules known as polymers to smother the flames. Industry officials say the special foam costs about 30 percent more than the standard product, at around $90 to $115 for a five-gallon container. Fighting ethanol fires also requires a change in tactics. Brent Gaspard, marketing director for Williams Fire & Hazard Control Inc., an industrial firefighting company in Texas, said firefighters cannot just charge ahead and attack an ethanol fire with foam. “If you just plunge the foam into the fuel, it’s going to be less effective. You have to let the foam gently run across the surface so you create a shield,” he said.” – Source

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