Mining Publication: Ignition Tests With a Fiber-Optic Powered Instrument
New types of industrial instruments use fiber-coupled laser energy to power remote sensors. Fiber-optic based instruments are useful in classified (hazardous) locations found in many industrial plants because the fiber provides a natural barrier against accidental electrical discharge into potentially explosive atmospheres. However, current safety standards do not cover the use of laser-powered fiber-optic instruments in potentially explosive environments such as found in coal mines. The U.S. Bureau of Mines began an investigation of laser-powered fiber-optic instruments in explosive atmospheres in support of the standard-making process. A commercial fiber-optic interface system, modified to simulate several worst-case operating conditions, ignited explosive hydrogen-air mixtures. Worst-case simulations consisted of disabling a safety shutoff feature, operating the laser at significantly higher powers than intended for normal operations, and cleaving fiber-optic connections to direct laser energy onto selected absorptive materials. At the highest power level available, the fiber-optic interface system did not ignite selected methane-air mixtures. The obtained data should prove useful in establishing appropriate safety standards.