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Ventillation system


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You always need some sort of ventilation for a distillery, both for air change-over for removal of background levels of alcohol and CO2, but also a higher speed exhaust for when large quantities might occur from spills, still swamps, etc.

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You need ventilation. Ideally the power to the still and an emergency exhaust would be interlocked with an ethanol sensor (ethanol sensor alarms, still power turns off, emergency exhaust turns on). You need to keep the buildup of ethanol vapors to LESS THAN 25% of the lower flammable limit of ethanol. Please take the time to know about the chemical properties of the materials you are working with. Including how flammable it is and what can ignite the vapors (heat, lightning, electrical devices like phones, non-classified electrical equipment, STATIC). It is vitally vitally important that you look after your own safety. There has been a rash of ethanol fires lately. Know what Maximum Allowable Quantities are (120 gallons of product MAX outside of bottles in a building with no sprinklers). Have an appropriate fire extinguisher on hand. Ventilation in a distillery is backwards from a regular building. Exhaust from within 12" of the floor (ethanol vapor is heavier than air) and provide makeup air at the ceiling diagonally from the exhaust vent. 

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Ethanol vapor would be detectable by odor at about 85-100ppm, and 1000ppm is the OSHA exposure limit.  By 5000ppm (15% LEL), ethanol vapor would begin to be uncomfortable, by 10,000 (30% LEL) there would be obvious discomfort, by 15,000 (50% LEL) you would be continuously coughing and tearing. 20,000ppm (70% LEL) is completely intolerable.

Previously, 15,000ppm was the NIOSH IDLH limit - Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health.  But that's been revised down to 3,300ppm (10% LEL).  This is likely the reason an engineer or AHJ would specify 10% LEL alarms - that limit is about people safety, not explosion risk safety.

The other factor to keep in mind, is that localized readings might be higher.  A still leaking vapor could have a much higher concentration at the still, and might not be so obviously noticeable otherwise.  Just being near 15% LEL, would likely be very noticeable to a skilled distiller, you are your own combustible gas detector.  But you might not be close enough to notice, until it was too late.

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46 minutes ago, FijiSpirits said:

Is there an ethanol safety resource I could find?  I need to do up a fire and safety plan for the distillery.


Check out this thread, there are a lot of good ideas.



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