Flame Detection – type of flames, detection technology & selection

Process and plant engineers in the oil & gas, petrochem, pharma, manufacturing industry require continuous flame monitoring equipment to prevent catastrophic fires. In order to select such detection equipment, users should understand the principles of flame detection and review the types of detectors available today. Thereby, they will better off to select optimum flame detector to process and site performance requirement, suiting the type of targeted hazard.

Typical Flame Hazards
The range of potential flammable hazards is expansive and growing as materials and processes become more complex. Increasingly sophisticated flame sensing technologies with embedded intelligence are required to detect the most common industrial fuels:
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Alcohols Diesel Ethylene Solvents
Hydrogen Jet Fuels Kerosene LNG / LPG
Sulfur Textiles Aerosol Petrochemicals


Principles of Flame Detection

Most flame detectors identify flames by so-called optical methods like ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) spectroscopy and visual flame imaging. eg. Flames at refinery are generally fueled by hydrocarbons, which produce heat, carbon dioxide, and other products of combustion. The intense reaction is characterized by the emission of visible, UV, and IR radiation. Flame detectors are designed to detect the absorption of light at specific wavelengths, thus discriminating between flames and false alarm sources.

Flame Sensing Technologies

There are four primary optical flame-sensing technologies in use today: ultraviolet (UV), ultraviolet/infrared (UV/IR), multi-spectrum infrared (MSIR), and visual flame imaging. They are all based on line-of-sight detection of radiation emitted in the UV, visible, and IR spectral bands by flames. Selection criteria may depend on requirements of flame monitoring applications, including detection range, field of view, response time, and particular immunity against certain false alarm sources.

Emission Energy Spectrum

  • UV Flame Detectors

    UV detectors respond to radiation in the spectral range of approximately 180-260 nanometers. They offer quick response and good sensitivity at comparatively short ranges (0–50 ft). Because they are susceptible to arc welding, halogen lamps, and electrical discharges like lightning, they tend to be used indoors. Thick, sooty smoke can also cause failures due to attenuation of the incident UV radiation.

  • UV/IR Flame Detectors

    When a UV optical sensor is integrated with an IR sensor, a dual band detector is created. This detector is sensitive to the UV and IR radiation emitted by a flame. The combined UV/IR flame detector offers increased immunity over the UV detector, operates at moderate speeds of response, and is suited for both indoor and outdoor use. As with UV detectors, however, the detection range of these instruments may be reduced by heavy smoke.

  • Multi-Spectrum Infrared Flame Detectors (IR3)

    Multi-spectrum IR flame detectors use multiple infrared spectral regions to further improve differentiation of flame sources from non-flame background radiation. These flame detectors are well suited to locations where combustion sources produce smoky fires. They operate at moderate speed up to 200 feet from the flame source — both indoors and outdoors. These instruments exhibit relatively high immunity to infrared radiation produced by arc welding, lightning, sunlight, and other hot objects.

  • Visual Flame Imaging Flame Detectors

    Visual flame detectors employ standard charged couple device (CCD) image sensors. CCD sensing is commonly used in closed circuit television cameras. These flame detection also used complex algorithms to establish the presence of fires. The imaging algorithms process the live video image from the CCD array and analyze the shape and progression of would be fires to discriminate between flame and non-flame sources. Unlike IR or UV flame detectors, CCTV visual flame detectors do not depend on emissions from carbon dioxide, water, and other products of combustion. Nor they are influenced by fire’s radiant intensity. As a result, they are commonly found in installations where flame detectors are required to discriminate between process fires and fires resulting from an accidental release of combustible material.

Despite their advantages, visual flame detectors cannot detect flames that are invisible to the naked eye such as hydrogen flames. Heavy smoke also impairs the detector’s capacity to detect fire, since visible radiation from the fire is one of the technology’s fundamental parameters.

Industrial Process and Plant Flame Detection Requirements

When configuring a flame detection system for a plant, its also essential to consider the following flame detector performance criteria:

  • False Alarm Immunity
  • Detection Range
  • Response Time Field of View
  • Self Diagnostics
  • False Alarm Immunity

    One of the most important considerations for the selection of flame detectors is False alarm rejection. False alarms are more than a nuisance — they are both a productivity and cost issue. It is therefore essential that flame detectors discriminate between actual flames and radiation from sunlight, lightning, arc welding, hot objects, and other non-flame sources.

  • Detection Range and Response Time

    A flame detector’s most basic performance criteria are detection range and response time. Depending on a specific plant application environment, each of the alternative flame detection technologies recognizes a flame within a certain distance and a distribution of response times. Typically the greater the distance and the shorter the time that a given flame sensing technology requires to detect a flame, the more effective it is at supplying early warning against fires and detonations.

  • Field of View

    Detection range and FOV define area coverage per device. Like a wide angle lens, a flame detector with a large field of view can take in a broader scene. This may help reduce the number of flame detectors required for certain installations. Most of today’s flame detector models offer fields of view of about 90° to 120°.

  • Self Diagnostics

    To meet the highest reliability standards, continuous optical path monitoring (COPM) diagnostics are often built into optical flame detectors. The self-check procedure is designed to ensure that the optical path is clear, the detectors are functioning. Additionally, it also ensure electronic circuitry is operational. Self-check routines are programmed into the flame detector’s control circuitry to activate about once every minute. If the same fault occurs twice in a row, then a fault is indicated via the 0-20 mA output or a digital communications protocol like HART or Modbus.


Users should evaluate potential flame hazard, principles of flame detection, and types of flame detection technologies available. Proper identification of requirements for an application is also essential, such as the type of fuel, minimum fire size, and the configuration of the space to be monitored can influence the choice of instrument.