Flash point is the lowest temperature at which a liquid (usually a petroleum product) will form a vapor in the air near its surface that will “flash,” or briefly ignite, on exposure to an open flame1. Back in the late 1800s, flash point was a lived experience. Households primarily used kerosene for heat and light, and open flame was a part of every day. Bad kerosene – fuel diluted with gasoline or other contaminants – delivered unpredictable flash points and bad results. Fires and explosions were fairly common. These shared catastrophes ushered in a focused effort to establish meaningful standards for various grades of petroleum. Both ASTM2 and OSHA3 have created standard flash point measurement methods that are used today.
The standardization of flash point analysis fundamentally created a durable definition for flash point relative to the type of fuel considered. For example,
- automotive gasoline,−43 °C (−45 °F)
- ethyl alcohol, 13 °C (55 °F)
- automotive diesel fuel, 38 °C (100 °F)
- kerosene, 42-72 °C (108 - 162 °F)
- home heating oil, 52-96 °C (126-205 °F)
- SAE 10W-30 motor oil, 216 °C (421 °F)
Flash points are measured using one of two methods: closed cup or open cup. Either of these methods, when executed properly, deliver a precise characterization of the fuel tested, and are extremely important to identify contaminants in the fuel, especially those contaminants that are more volatile than the fuel itself. Like so many things, fuels can experience significant performance or monetary value changes due to contamination. Flash points are critical data points for quality assurance, and flash point analysis is a strong tool when used routinely to keep petroleum-based products true to grade.
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- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Flash point". Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Oct. 2012, https://www.britannica.com/science/flash-point. Accessed 2 March 2021.
- ASTM D56, ASTM D92 and ASTM D93
- OSHA's 29 CFR 1910.106 standard