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Mining & Resources

Research, testing & training: A view of combustible dust from the laboratory

7 Oct 2016, by Informa Insights

fiona-clarksonAs a preview to the upcoming Dust Explosions Conference in Brisbane on the 17-18 October, Research Scientist, Dr Fiona Clarkson, from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines recently took a break from some bespoke explosion testing at Simtars‘ laboratory to give us an insight into the exciting and specialist world of combustible dust.

How harmful can dusts be?
In terms of physical properties at the g/m3 level, if a dust is not handled safely, the result can range from minor plant and equipment damage with loss of production to catastrophic damage to plant and loss of life among employees.

In terms of the physiological properties at the mg/m3 level which is a significantly lower dust quantity, there can be adverse health effects to employees exposed to dusts in the work environment.

In your experience, what are some of the most common risk factors associated with combustible dust?
Based on my observations, combustible dusts are not in the Australian mindset. In general industry there is an apparent lack of appreciation that finely divided dusts are potential combustible dusts which if handled incorrectly can lead to fires and explosions during processing.

What is dust testing and how is it done?
Combustible Dust testing comprises a series of internationally recognised tests that evaluates the way in which fine powders behave (eg. their physical properties) when exposed to sources of energy and heat which simulate those found in processing and extractive industries.

Small quantities of dusts from a stakeholder’s plant or site are subjected to a series of tests where the powder is exposed to a variable energy source eg a spark or a source of heat and the ability of the product to explode or ignite is recorded.

What have been some of the recent technological advancements in testing?
The equipment used for testing has been standardised for quite some time but the advent of new powder types such as nanoparticles may require that new testing practices and equipment may need to be developed to handle these new classes of materials.

At the moment, you’re the only female speaker at our upcoming Dust Explosions conference in Brisbane. Do you expect that we’ll see greater diversity in this field in the future?
In Simtars’ case, the two research scientists involved in this work are both females.  Its not a question of gender, but rather capability and opportunity to enter into such a specialised field.

The Dust Explosions conference in Brisbane includes a site tour of Simtars – Australia’s centre of dust research excellence. What can attendees expect from this tour of Simtars’ facilities?
To visit the only currently operating combustible dust testing facility in Australasia and view the equipment that generates the data for industry.

What are you most looking forward to at this event?  
Networking with the many industry suppliers / consultants in the field of combustible dusts who I have only spoken to over the phone in my time at Simtars.

Dr Fiona Clarkson will be discussing the importance of becoming aware of the risk factors associated with particular dusts at the upcoming Dust Explosions Conference in Brisbane on the 17-18 October.  The conference includes a guided site tour of Simtas. For more information, visit


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