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Case Studies | Explosions

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Uncovering unseen evidence

A suburban Chicago company that specializes in the packaging industry experienced an explosion in their regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO). The explosion caused irreparable damage to the RTO, which was being used to burn volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Amset was retained to investigate the cause of the explosion.


The RTO contains large poppet valves, which under normal conditions open and close frequently to allow the incoming VOC’s and combustion gases to enter and exit via different paths. This helps maintain the timing and amounts of VOC’s that enter the combustion chamber. When the explosion occurred, temperatures were well below freezing. Amset collected the gas train, poppet valves, and controls for the RTO to further analyze them in their in-house laboratory. 


Based on analysis of the equipment and safety mechanisms in place, Amset discovered proper safety equipment was not installed to avoid explosive conditions due to pressure build up. Through years of consulting experience, critical thinking and deductive reasoning, Amset concluded that a frozen poppet caused pressure to build up and the safeties weren’t adequate to alleviate the pressure quickly enough. Amset’s client was able to recover costs from the manufacturer of the equipment due to negligent design.

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