Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

In 1947 a ship named the Reina del Pacifico was out for sea trials after reconditioning. During the trial run, there was an explosion in the engine room that killed 28 members of her crew. As you could imagine, an event this deadly was met with shock and horror. Eventually, an investigation was called for to determine what caused the explosion. This investigation was undertaken by B.I.C.E.R.A. (British Internal Combustion Engine Research Association).

The yearlong investigation found that oil mists exist inside the crankcase of large engines. This mist is generally not dangerous unless the engine gets overheated. When a bearing inside the engine goes bad, the excess friction causes a hot spot that can generate enough heat to create a vapor from some of the oil mist. This hot spot can then act as a source of ignition. Ignition of the vapor can cause anything from a very minor event to, as seen in the Reina del Pacifico, a major explosion. 

The next step in the investigation was to find a way to eliminate the potential for, or mitigate the effects of, these events. While the investigation did discover a few options to protect against explosions, they settled on one as the best choice: Relief valves.

These valves would need to open quickly with little pressure to relieve pressure quickly and effectively. Also, of significant importance was the ability to seal quickly once pressure was relieved, to prevent a rush of oxygen into the crankcase, which could cause a secondary event. It was also found that the best option was many small valves instead of few large valves. Finally, in sometimes crowded engine rooms, it was desirable to have any flame created by explosions extinguished, and any hot gases directed down and away from any personnel that might be present.

As the investigation was on-going, a valve was developed. This valve design was purchased by Penn-Troy and the BICERA Valve was born. More than 60 years later, we are still manufacturing the original BICERA crankcase explosion relief valves right here in Troy, PA. improvements in materials have been made, but the valve remains remarkably unchanged. A true testament to the original design. 

A few years ago, we developed another relief valve: The BICERA Sigma valve. This valve does the same job as the original “legacy” valve, but with an external flame trap, which eliminates the potential for interference inside the crankcase seen in the internal, oil-wetted flame trap of the legacy valve. 

Penn-Troy continues to innovate and enhance important safety and security devices for the engines and compressors used in the marine/shipping, oil and gas compression, mining, power generation, and rail industries. Reach out to us at [email protected] today and see what we can do for you.