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Oxygen Candles:Providing Emergency Air

Oxygen candles are used as a backup source of breathable air in an emergency. They supply an on-demand source of oxygen, utilised in aeroplanes, space stations as well as other applications such as safe havens and refuge chambers.

A safe supply of oxygen is critical to support life. We are dependent on oxygen for survival; our bodies consume it to produce energy. If primary sources of oxygen are scarce, these generators are on stand-by ready to produce a finite amount of oxygen via a chemical reaction.

How Oxygen Candles Work

Oxygen is produced from a thermal chemical reaction. Oxygen candles house a mixture of sodium chlorate, barium peroxide and iron powder; the oxygen producing chemical is sodium chlorate.

This chemical reaction requires a significant amount of energy input, hence the need for iron powder. Iron powder burns at a higher temperature around 600°C (1112°F); as it heats the iron becomes very hot and breaks down the sodium chlorate. This reaction produces oxygen, sodium chloride (common salt) and iron oxide through a process known as thermal decomposition.

2Fe +3O2  ->  2Fe2O3

-> Heat

NaClO3   -> 3O2 +NaCl

The initial energy required to start the reaction occurs when a specific initiation mechanism, a brass starter, ignites the iron powder.


Oxygen candles produce a lot of heat. Steps must be followed to ensure the safety of all personnel including the use of gloves and a strict no moving policy.

The candle supplied by MineARC Systems burns for approximately 60-90 minutes, producing 2600L of oxygen. This amount can provide approximately 20 hours of breathable air for four people. An oxygen candle cannot have its oxygen production regulated or halted and once ignited; it produces oxygen at a rate of approximately 28 Litres per minute until it is exhausted.

Why Supply Oxygen Candles in Refuge Chambers?

Within refuge chambers, oxygen candles are an independent means source of respirable air while preparations for rescue are made. In the rare event the primary and secondary oxygen supplies fail, the candles are a viable backup.

The primary sources of breathable air within a refuge chamber are:

  1. Compressed Air: Compressed air is simply the atmospheric “air” being pushed through pipelines down to the refuge chamber via a compressor. Before compressed air can be considered suitable for breathing, airborne water particles, dust, oil contaminants and pollutants such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons from diesel exhausts need to be filtered.
  1. Oxygen Cylinders: Oxygen cylinders reintroduce oxygen into the refuge chamber at the rate it is being consumed. Compressed oxygen is released from a cylinder into the chamber through a regulator that controls the flow rate. Flow is set at the rate of occupant consumption. Oxygen cylinders are used in the event compressed air fails and generally require the support of a scrubbing system to remove carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from the air.

As a candle is an entirely independent source of oxygen from within the refuge chamber. In this way, it’s isolated from common faults found in the other sources:

  • Compressed Air: The feed can often be compromised during an emergency due to damage to the circuit or carbon monoxide contamination requiring the chamber to be isolated.
  • Oxygen Cylinders: Leaks or tampering of the bottles is possible which can impact the effectiveness of the cylinders. Candles can’t leak or be tampered with without initiating the candle.
Training underground miners safety protocol and how to use an oxygen candle

Oxygen Candle Risks

The risks associated with the candles is often feared without due cause. Oversaturation and fire hazards are two notable risks. The candles can enter a state of elevated oxygen (maximum 32%), which is classified as oxygen enriched. However, at these percentages the same fire ignition risks remain and no additional ignition risk is present. A severe fire hazard is present if the candles are mishandled, which is why strict safety guidelines are in place.

These candles are designed to be used in situations in which there is a need for oxygen immediate and therefore worth the risk. This independent, compact and stable third source of oxygen is viewed as highly valuable from a MineARC perspective.

An oxygen candle is a device which produces oxygen when breathable air is scarce. Used as the last means of breathable air within a refuge chamber, they can produce enough oxygen to sustain life while waiting for rescue. Oxygen candles are reliable, relatively safe, and can last for long periods without decreasing its oxygen production.

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