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Apparently, someone left the cover open on a glycerin tank and the methanol vapors ignited.

article from http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/01/05/update-on-biodiesel-plant-explosion-human-error-was-to-blame/

The explosion (and resulting injuries) at a Defiance, Ohio biodiesel plant run by American Ag Fuels that we told you about yesterday appears to be the result of human error. According to a story (with video) at Indiana's News Center, workers left a manhole cover off of a glycerin storage tank. A spark then ignited methanol vapors that escaped, causing one large and then a smaller second explosion. INC says that, "Neighboring homeowners and workers are trying to settle their nerves a day after the blast."
As for the injured workers, one remains hospitalized with third-degree burns while the other two have been released from the hospital.
 
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Geesz, hope the guy will be okay.

I guess the system must normally be sealed. More below
By TODD HELBERG
[email protected]
The cause of a mid-afternoon explosion Thursday at a Defiance agri-fuel business which injured four persons " one seriously " and caused a brief evacuation of neighboring homes remains under investigation.
The explosion just after 3 p.m. at American Ag Fuels, 815 Greenler St., caused power to briefly fail throughout the city, rattled nearby homes and sent materials skyward from a small building that was destroyed. A low cloud of thick, black smoke rolled north from the scene just after the explosion, attracting a flock of curious motorists into the area.
The Defiance Fire Department immediately summoned help from surrounding jurisdictions while a ProMedica air ambulance was called and flew over the scene. When it arrived, the helicopter was called off, but three persons were taken by area rescue personnel to Defiance Regional Medical Center.
Two were treated and released while a third, Roger Burditt of McClure, was taken by air ambulance to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, Toledo, where he was listed in "serious" condition this morning with burn injuries.
A fourth person drove himself to the hospital, according to Defiance Fire Chief Mark Marentette, and was treated and released.
The names of those treated and released were not available.
Marentette said a ProMedica nurse who rode with city firefighters to the scene helped treat the injured.
According to police scanner traffic monitored just after the explosion, they included a 49-year-old man and a 41-year old man. And, Marentette said one man had a lacerated finger while the other complained of chest discomfort.
A city police officer, Toby Delaney, was also held overnight at Defiance Regional Medical Center as a precaution for smoke inhalation. Delaney had been helping with traffic control, but later "showed symptoms" of smoke inhalation, according to Police Chief Norm Walker.
Following the explosion, city police and sheriff's deputies worked quickly to cordone off several blocks and begin evacuating persons in a two-block area, due to the fear of additional explosions and chemical contamination.
"The guys did a great job," said Walker. "We had to seal off the area to protect the firemen and to protect the citizens from getting into that area."
Residents were given the option of gathering at a Red Cross evacuation center set up at Trinity United Methodist Church on East Second Street. But no one showed up as residents were allowed back into their homes around 4:40 p.m.
After rocking the neighborhood, the explosion briefly burned intensely before being brought under control by city firefighters and their two aerial ladder trucks, with help from surrounding departments. They included Noble Township, South Richland, Highland Township and Napoleon. Hazardous material units from Defiance County and Bryan were also on the scene as well as the Defiance County Emergency Management Agency and Ohio EPA.
Neighbors throughout the area reported hearing a loud explosion that rattled windows and " in some cases " blew them out.
Mark Johnson of Clifford R. Hunt Inc., a painting business located due west of American Ag Fuels, said three windows were shattered on the building's east side while a hole was blown through a large garage door on the north side.
He and another employee were standing in a doorway when they saw and heard the explosion as well as the subsequent screams and cries for help from an injured man, presumably Burditt. Johnson also said debris from the small building destroyed in the explosion came down on electrical lines, causing them to briefly arc.
The building, according to American Ag Fuels owner Steve Lankenau, was used to unload raw material and take finished material away. Shaped like a large greenhouse, the building's metal roof was destroyed as were both ends, revealing two tanks inside. Today, only the building's steel ribbing is visible.
The company produces biodiesel, utilizing soybean oil and other materials which are stored in several large tanks at that plant. Two of these " one filled with flammable glycerin " were the subject of firefighters' immediate attention, Marentette said.
"When we arrived, the fire was growing and spreading," he explained. "It was brought to our attention immediately by a plant worker that the fire was impinging on two tanks of glycerin."
Marentette said water was used to cool them. A safety relief valve on one tank also opened, as designed, for safety reasons. This created another large explosion which was heard about a half hour after the initial blow.
"If it would have actually exploded, the safety device would have had to fail," said Marentette. "They are designed to vent to prevent an explosion. It could have been worse. The reason it wasn't was the safety device on the tanks did what it was supposed to do.
"Our guys busted their tails to get water on those tanks and at same time the police department and the sheriff's office were exceptional in moving people out of the area. It was a fantastic areawide effort."
Huge flames were initially visible, but these were brought under control relatively quickly. Marentette said the water being used to cool the tanks, which he figured can hold 5,000 or 10,000 gallons of material, helped tame the fire while ignited biodiesel eventually burned itself out.
No cause had been uncovered for the fire as of press time this morning. Marentette said it likely will require talking with Burditt about what happened.
"We're just starting the investigation," he said. "We think that the best answers we will get are from the gentleman at St. Vincent's. We are going to arrange an interview with him today."
According to Marentette, city firefighters and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are involved in the investigation while help is also being sought from the state fire marshal's office.
The explosion caused Brickell Elementary School officials to detain children who would have walked home.
According to principal Jim Wyse, students who cross the CSX Railroad tracks at Douglas Street and those walking east on Hopkins Street, were detained briefly so parents could be contacted for a ride.
"It went fairly smoothly," said Wyse, noting that only 10-12 students were involved.
An announcement was initially made to teachers to hold those children. The last of them departed the school by 4:15 p.m.
 

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Is this a real problem with making biodiesel?

If it can happen to a factory, how come it doesn't happen more often at homebrewers?
 

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Don't know how common it is but it happens to homebrewers. You are working with potentially hazardous chemicals. You could also start a grease fire on the stove too if you're not careful. That's why I put a disclaimer on the biodiesel info sections of the website too.
 
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Hope those guys are ok. At least the safety devices worked.

I remember watching a 60 minutes program where they talked about an oil factory that chose to not fix their equipment to their own safety standards. When there was a pretty serious explosion, a lot of people were hurt. Oil companies aren't known for being hard of cash either.
 
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Wow..an oil company should try to improve their image in this time. They play commercials trying to improve their image but do this stuf...unbelievable.
 
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How hot does bio have to get before it just spontaeously combusts at normal atmospheric temperature?
 

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Let's hope it doesn't make people think "not in my backyard" The safety mechanisms worked. In theory, a gas station could explode too.
 
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