Thermal cameras from FLIR Infrared Cameras & Thermal Imaging have been installed at a bulk coal terminal at the Amsterdam port to provide timely detection of self-combustion hazards.

Self-combustion is a serious concern during storage or loading of large amounts of coal. Dutch bulk terminal company OBA decided to install FLIR thermal imaging cameras at their coal storage and handling terminal to help monitor coal temperatures that signal potential self-combustion hazards before they have a chance to erupt.

One of the leading dry bulk terminal companies in the ARA region (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp), OBA operates from two terminals in the port of Amsterdam, transferring and loading several commodities including coal, agricultural bulk goods, minerals, and biomass goods. Given that the storage and handling of coal amounted to roughly 80 percent of OBA’s business, consisting of round-the-clock shipments to various European destinations, the company opted for FLIR thermal cameras to safeguard their investment.

Self-combustion takes place when coal is exposed to oxygen, raising its temperature and leading to sudden ignition. Dick Meijer, Planner at OBA explains that self-combustion of coal is a constant concern at the terminal. Prevention methods include using an excavator or wheel loader to dig out and spread the suspected area and have dedicated combustion fighting equipment that allows them to compact the area and release the oxygen out of the coal stack.

Response time is a critical factor since coal combustion will not only amount to high expenses from energy and stock loss, but can also have safety and environmental implications.

According to Dick Meijer, OBA sought a solution to monitor the temperature of their coal stock before being loaded onto the barges. They found thermal imaging to be the perfect technology for the purpose and decided to invest in their own thermal imaging cameras from FLIR Systems in 2013 to ensure all the coal leaving their site was safe to be transported. This was in addition to the weekly inspections being conducted by an external agency.

Thermal imaging cameras can monitor entire areas of the coal stack at the terminal. When the coal is on the conveyor belt, thermal imaging cameras can read the entire coal mass temperature, not just the coal surface, enabling OBA staff to take immediate and appropriate action when a threat is perceived.

Additionally, several EU countries require the temperature of a coal load to be below 60°C before, during, and directly after the loading process. For instance, every load of coal that leaves the Amsterdam terminal for Germany needs to be backed with a valid temperature monitoring certificate. Thermal imaging allows OBA to meet these regulatory requirements more easily.

The OBA terminal is now equipped with three rugged FLIR A310f cameras, each positioned on a tower with a wide view overlooking several conveyor belts that deliver the coal to barges. By positioning the thermal imaging cameras as close to the barges as possible, OBA can visualise the entire conveyor belt stretch (up to 900m) and monitor the coal temperatures up to the last second before loading, helping prevent the risk of a combustion incident onboard.

To allow trouble-free operation in the harsh environment of the port, OBA selected the FLIR A310f high-speed camera in an environmental housing, which increases the camera’s environmental specification to IP66, without affecting any of the camera features.

The thermal video images are sent over IP to a central control room where they are continuously monitored using a proprietary software system.

In addition to the FLIR A310f camera, OBA has also installed a FLIR E6 handheld thermal imaging camera, which is used with a temperature probe to inspect large piles of coal at the terminal. While the probe measures pinpoint temperature, the E6 and A310f infrared cameras display temperature patterns and provide measurements for a larger area.