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Evaluation of the Self-Heating Tendency of Vegetable Oils by Differential Scanning Calorimetry

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The evaluation of the self-heating propensity of a vegetable (or animal) oil may be of significant importance during the investigation of a fire. Unfortunately, iodine value and gas chromatographic-mass spectrometric analysis do not lead to meaningful results in this regard. To the contrary, differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), which does not measure the chemical composition of the oil, but rather its thermodynamic behavior, produces valuable results. After a thorough literature review on the autooxidation of vegetable oils, several oils with different self-heating tendencies were analyzed using a Mettler-Toledo differential scanning calorimeter DSC 25 between 40°C and 500°C. Analyses were carried out both under air and nitrogen atmosphere to identify the phenomena due to autooxidation reactions. Using DSC, it was possible to observe the induction period of the oil (when available), the three different exothermic events, and the autoignition temperature (relatively independent of the oil type).
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Keywords: fatty acids; fire investigation; forensic science; spontaneous combustion; spontaneous ignition; thermodynamics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institut de Police Scientifique, School of Criminal Sciences, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.

Publication date: 2008-11-01

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