Thermal buckling of metal oil tanks subject to an adjacent fire
Fire is one of the main hazards associated with storage tanks containing flammable liquids. These tanks are usually closely spaced and in large groups, so where a petroleum fire occurs, adjacent tanks are susceptible to damage leading to further development of the fire. The structural behaviour such as thermal stability and failure modes of the tanks under such fire scenario are very important to the safety design and assessment of oil depots. However, no previous studies on this problem are known to the best knowledge of the author. This thesis presents a systematic exploration of the potential thermal and structural behaviours of an oil tank when one of its neighbour tanks is on fire. Under such scenario, the oil tanks are found to easily buckle under rather moderate temperature rises. The causes of such buckling failures are the reduced modulus of steel at elevated temperatures, coupled with thermally-induced stresses due to the restraint of thermal expansion. Since the temperatures reached in such structures can be several hundred Centigrade degrees, any restraint to thermal expansion can lead to the development of compressive stresses. The high susceptibility of thin shell structures to elastic buckling under low compressive stresses means that this type of failure can be easily provoked. The main objectives of this thesis were to reveal the thermal distribution patterns developed in an oil tank under the heating from an adjacent tank fire, to understand the underlying mechanism responsible for the buckling of tank structure, and to explore the influences of various thermal and geometrical parameters on the buckling temperature of the tanks. The study began with analytical solutions for stresses and deformations in a partially filled roofless cylindrical tank under an idealised axisymmetrical heating regime involving thermal discontinuity at the liquid level. The results demonstrate that large compressive circumferential membrane stresses occur near the bottom boundary for an empty tank and near the liquid level for a partially-filled tank. Heat transfer analysis was conducted to explore the temperature distribution developed in the tank when the fire reaches a steady state. Parameters and assumptions used in the adopted pool fire model were carefully examined. The results show that a rather non-uniform distribution of temperature is developed in the tank especially around the tank circumference. A simple model was then proposed to describe the temperature distribution based on the numerical heat transfer analysis. The accuracy of the proposed temperature distribution model for predicting the structure behaviour was evaluated by comparing its predictions with those using directly the temperature distribution obtained from the numerical heat transfer analysis. Extensive geometric and material nonlinear analyses were carried out to capture the buckling behaviour of the tank using both the proposed temperature distribution and that from heat transfer analysis. It was found large vertical compressive membrane stresses are induced in the tank, causing buckling. The influence of fire diameter, location, liquid filling level and tank geometry were investigated.
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