This paper explores an infrequently encountered hazard associated with liquid fuel tanks on gasoline-powered equipment using unvented fuel tanks. Depending on the location of fuel reserve tanks, waste heat from the engine or other vehicle systems can warm the fuel during operation. In the event that the fuel tank is not vented and if the fuel is sufficiently heated, the liquid fuel may become superheated and pose a splash hazard if the fuel cap is suddenly removed. Accident reports often describe the ejection of liquid as a geyser. This geyser is a transient, two-phase flow of flashing liquid. This could create a fire hazard and result in splashing flammable liquid onto any bystanders. Many existing fuel tank systems are vented to ambient through a vented tank cap. It has been empirically determined that the hazard can be prevented by limiting fuel tank gauge pressure to 10 kPa (1.5 psi). However, if the cap does not vent at an adequate rate, pressure in the tank can rise and the fuel can become superheated. This phenomenon is explored here to facilitate a better understanding of how the hazard is created. The nature of the hazard is explained using thermodynamic concepts. The differences in behavior between a closed system and an open system are discussed and illustrated through experimental results obtained from two sources: experiments with externally heated fuel containers and operation of a gasoline-powered riding lawn mower. The role of the vented fuel cap in preventing the geyser phenomenon is demonstrated.

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