The University of Southampton

Electrostatic ignition hazards in mining processes


Two fires have occurred in the copper solvent extraction (CuSX) plant at the Olympic Dam mine in Southern Australia. The first occurred on 21 December 1999, the second occurred on 21 October 2001. Both of these fires occurred in the same area of the SX plant and their origins were attributed to static electricity.

In the areas where the fires originated, low conductivity solvent (Shellsol) with some additives, is transported at various velocities through HDPE and MDPE pipe work. Although the flashpoint of the solvent is relatively high at 78ºC, temperatures within the plant may periodically reach 70-80ºC. In addition, the pipes can on occasion, be partially filled with solvent and air. Droplets or solvent mist may also be generated.

This project will examine the electrostatic charging characteristics of the process, the solvents used and the flammability of the solvents in mist form. A code of practice will be developed to ensure future safe operation.

Primary investigator

  • G.L. Hearn

Secondary investigators

  • J.R. Ballard
  • T.J. Williams


  • Western Mining Corporation
  • Shell
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