Evaluation of Alternative Fire Suppression Methods for Generators For Improved Safety, Effectiveness and Reliability

Project ID: 20100
Principal Investigator: Randall Egan
Research Topic: Public and Employee Safety
Funded Fiscal Years: 2020 and 2021
Keywords: None

Research Question

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is commonly used throughout Reclamation's fleet of hydroelectric generating plants (and some pumping plants) as the method of fire suppression within the generator air housings. Many generator windings are quite old or in poor condition increasing the chances of failure. A winding failure can cause a great deal of damage to the generator, damage to the plant, unit downtime, and risks to personnel such as smoke inhalation. CO2 suppression systems have proven effective globally and at Reclamation at minimizing the negative impacts of a winding failure, however CO2 is an asphyxiant which can cause injury or death to employees, contractors, visitors, and first responders. Alternative fires suppression systems have been in use for many years but have not been adopted by Reclamation due to the proven reliability of CO2 systems, the high cost (real or perceived) of alternative gaseous systems, greenhouse emissions related to alternative agents, and a reluctance to allow water on the windings.

CO2 systems generally last twenty to twenty-five years before becoming obsolete due to lack of parts availability or ability to communicate with modern fire alarm systems in a code compliant fashion. Many Reclamation plants currently rely upon these obsolete systems and are beginning to procure modern replacements which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is an urgent need for Reclamation to research the alternative fire suppression methods for generators for improved safety, effectiveness, reliability, and cost.

Need and Benefit

Carbon dioxide is an effective fire suppression agent for hydroelectric generators but carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant and can be lethal to plant staff, visitors, and first responders. Reclamation must determine if alternative generator fire suppression methods such as clean agent and water mist are safe, effective, reliable, and cost effective. Many Reclamation plants already have obsolete carbon dioxide systems that cannot be repaired. Results of this research will be immediate used to help Reclamation make effective decisions when replacing obsolete systems or improving safety.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20