Data centre fire protection with Vortex

Published:  01 August, 2013

Small data and telecoms centres worldwide have a new technology option when it comes to fire protection – and the good news is that it doesn’t require room integrity. Jose Sanchez talks with Victaulic’s Frank Barstow about the Vortex hybrid system.

It’s been a long time coming but finally the Victaulic hybrid system of combined nitrogen and water mist system is available outside the US. Systems are now being installed in Europe, Middle East and Asia, and confidence is growing that the NFPA will begin work on a new standard for a technology that is so specialised it has hitherto not been able to fit into any other standard, even though Vortex was FM Approved as the world’s first-ever Class 5580 hybrid (water and inert gas) fire extinguishing system in 2009.

In approving the system, FM created a category specifically for Victaulic Vortex because the revolutionary system could not be classified within the approval agency’s existing boundaries.

Public comments on the creation of a new NFPA standard for the application of hybrid, gas, and fine water droplet systems ended May 30th and the next stage is decision time, when it will be decided whether an existing standard should cover the technology or whether a new document should be created.

Vortex is hybrid technology that puts together two things to extinguish the fire. It uses two types of tanks, one set filled with nitrogen and a much smaller tank filled with water. When it discharges, nitrogen enters the piping at low pressure (25psi), but as it travels through the emitter (ie nozzle) it is travelling at supersonic speeds which create shock waves as it hits a foil. On a separate line, water at 5psi drops onto the shock waves, where it is atomised to 10 microns of size. The tiny water droplets are then entrained in the nitrogen molecules, resulting in a homogenous suspension of nitrogen and water.

‘The droplets are so small that if you walked into a room full of them you would feel cool, but when you walked out you would be dry. It doesn’t wet surfaces so conductivity isn’t an issue,’ explains Frank.

The fire is attacked in two ways. Firstly, the nitrogen lowers the oxygen content in the room to a level at which humans can still safely breathe but fire cannot exist. Secondly, the droplets cool the room to the extent no flashbacks can occur. ‘The beauty of it is that it works like a gaseous system in that it penetrates all spaces but – while a gaseous system requires a room to be gas tight, the Vortex does not,’ adds Frank.

In the US,Victaulic Vortex has in the last few years been primarily used in machine rooms, turbine enclosures, and engine test cells. It has been particularly successful in the power industry, replacing old CO2 and Halon systems. It has also seen a lot of success in the steel industry, which is typically protected by sprinkler deluge systems.

In 2009, Vortex was installed by Kentucky-based North American Stainless (NAS) in a new production line for annealing and pickling of stainless steel.

The line is one of the largest units of its type in the world, with an annual rolling capacity of more than 1.2 million tons. The NAS pickling line application required that minimal water be released from the fire suppression system because excessive wetting would damage motors and controls, fill accumulator and motor drive pits and cause expensive damage and downtime on the lines.

As a pre-engineered system, Vortex is scalable to any sized data room, down to about 600 cubic feet depending on elevation on the low end.

  • Operation Florian

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