Self-heating behavior and ignition of shale rock

Francesco Restuccia, Nicolas Ptak, Guillermo Rein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
78 Downloads (Pure)


The combustion of shale, a porous sedimentary rock, has been reported at times in outcrop deposits and mining piles. However, the initiating event of most of these fires is unknown. It could be that, under the right conditions, shale rock undergoes spontaneous exothermic reactions in the presence of oxygen. This work studies experimentally and for the first time the self-heating behavior of shale rock. Because shale has high inert content, novel diagnostics such as mass loss measurements and visual observation of charring are introduced to detect self-heating ignition in respect to other self-heating materials with lower inter content. Using field samples collected from the outcrop at Kimmeridge Bay (UK) and the Frank-Kamenetskii theory of ignition, we determine the effective kinetic parameters for two particle-size distributions of shale. These parameters are then used to upscale the results to geological deposits and mining piles of different thicknesses. We show that for fine particles, with diameter below 2 mm, spontaneous ignition is possible for deposits of thickness between 10.7 m and 607 m at ambient temperatures between −20 ᵒC and 44 ᵒC. For the same ambient temperature range, the critical thickness is in excess of 30 km for deposits made of coarse particles with diameter below 17 mm. Our results indicate that shale rock is reactive, with reactivity highly dependent on particle diameter, and that self-ignition is possible for small particles in outcrops, piles or geological deposits accidentally exposed to oxygen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-219
Number of pages7
Early online date11 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Accidental fire
  • Particle size
  • Self-heating
  • Shale
  • Spontaneous combustion


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