Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fuel-Cell Mystery

by Atif Abbas

In order to make our lives comfortable and secure, we have to discipline ourselves - have to educate ourselves at every age group. This should be applicable in every walk of life, in every hour of life - by this we can work in a stress free environment. If we don't think about this, our future generation will also suffer - I am talking from eating habits to greeting a person to driving on the highway.

If you notice some of the things around us are neglected by people like you see cars parked in no discipline, people driving with high beam, honking without any reason, people smoking in a non-smoking zone - for all these, sign boards are installed. But did you ever notice what the signs represent or why the sign says, do this or don't do that. I know you will say, 'for safety' but you ever thought that most of us don't even know the meaning of sign boards rather aren’t aware of all the signs.

You be thinking the name of article is fuel-cell mystery and where we are heading. Well, I am taking you to text written (in red) at fuel stations (and also in cell phone manuals), Switch off your cell phone. So, you ever thought why you should switch off your cell phone. That’s why I talk about educating ourselves.

Rumors that cell phones caused explosions at fuel stations are the reason of warning people to avoid its usage at the stations. Members of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) tell that a GSM phone’s electromagnetic field can not ignite petrol vapors because its not strong enough to do so. 

Cell phone manufacturers and carriers hold responsible counterfeit batteries in context of overheating; agency spokesman of Consumer Product Safety Commission (SPSC), Scott Wolfson said, “There needs to be high-quality batteries for these cell phones. You have a lot of power in a very small product, so it’s really key”. President of California-based Wireless Consumers Alliance Carl Hilliard said, “If you’re cramming more and more power in a small space, what you’re making is a small bomb”.

Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) after investigating explosions (especially while refueling) found that static electricity is the reason. Static electricity expert Steve Fowler says, "Most people, when they pull up to the fuel station, are not thinking about static electricity”. While refueling, those drivers who get back into their vehicle mostly faced explosion because they put up static charge. “You're rubbing your clothes on the seat, and you can see there's a lot of rubbing going on, and as you stand, you are giving yourself a high voltage potential." - a phenomena similar to rubbing your hand on a quilt. And when the driver touches the nozzle a spark generates, which ignites vapors coming out. Fowler says, "The main thing to do is get away, if you have people in the car, get them out. Leave the nozzle alone, do not touch that and do not pull it out." otherwise, flames spread rapidly.

Keep in perspective that in Pakistan, one has the luxury of serviceman at the station to refuel. Although one can discharge oneself by touching the door of the car but in foreign countries to educate people, nozzle makers put static fire warnings on all new nozzles whereas fuel stations place warning pads to discharge static by touching.

For safe refueling, PEI surfaced three rules: first always turn off your engine; second, while refueling don't smoke and (thirdly) never re-enter your automobile.

Now the question arises why then cell phone manufacturers warn their products usage at the fuel station in the user manual?

Product-makers have to be careful against lawsuits - they take safety measures and warn about products usage in certain conditions like potentially explosive atmosphere. In case of battery-operated equipment, British government requires a label warning about spark igniting fuel vapors. Therefore, to meet government’s requirement cell phone manufacturers add the warning in user manuals.

Image Courtesy: MS-Office 2000