A thermal runaway is the chemical equivalency of a nuclear meltdown. It is scary stuff, believe me. Here is a horrible, real-life example:

Clearly, these guys had no idea of what forces they were dealing with. Going directly from 1 L to a 2500 gallon (roughly 10000 L) scale is bananas. Especially with a reaction involving dissolving sodium metal in the first step.


4 Responses to The chemist’s worst nightmare: Runaway reactions

  1. Billy Diol says:

    Scary stuff! For safety reasons we are not allowed in our labs to scale up a reaction no more than three times. I can imagine how the operator thinks “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit” when he sees the temperature rising through the roof.

  2. milkshake says:

    I remember reading the investigation report when this happened. The dudes responsible for this disaster were completely unaware that their high-boiling solvent (I think it was diglycol di-methylether) was not so inert and would vigorously react with sodium metal once the temperature got high enough. Also this being a shoestring operation, they used old refurbished reactor with woefully minuscule rupture disk and they loaded it up as much as they could, and the water jacket water cooling was a complete joke, and there was no backup. Every time when they run “successfully” before they had no safety margin whatsoever and they had no clue.

  3. jack woulfe says:

    I like thermal runaway hehe xD :pp

  4. Atwas911 says:

    “Production Increased by 30%”

    Why? Because the shareholders demanded more money. Each and every person that profited from this company should be held criminally responsible for the lives lost and damage caused.

    Things like this happen in every single public company in the world. Granted not all of them result in a chemical explosion, most just result in employees being reduced to slaves.

    When shareholders demand more, be damned the laws, be damned the saftey, be damned anything except their profit.

    This running-amuck form of capitalism we have evolved into will be the deaths of us all.

    Weather from companies like this one, or by a military industrial complex designed to trade our children’s lives for profit..

    Humanity should be ashamed of itself.

    But its not.. and its only getting worse.

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