Many industrial processes handle, use, or produce metallic particles small enough to explode in air, thus posing severe explosion hazards. Finishing operations, for example, create very fine particles and have been involved in a growing number of accidents in recent years. New emerging processes, such as 3D printing, are being rapidly developed and directly use micrometric particles to create complete objects by welding layers of material together. Finely divided metals also enter into the composition of plastics, rubber, fibers, paints, coatings, inks, pesticides, detergents, and even drugs; additionally, they are used as catalysts for major industrial chemical reactions, and are even being explored as possible clean alternatives to fossil fuels.
Metal dusts are of special concern due to their peculiar combustion properties, including their higher heat of combustion and pyrophoric nature,. As a result, metal dusts explosions are often much more devastating than explosions involving organic materials. Additionally, due to their high reactivity, many fine and most ultra-fine metal powders can burn in carbon dioxide, water vapor and even nitrogen. Whereas preventive measures may reduce explosion risks efficiently, they rarely are sufficient to eliminate explosions completely, especially when dealing with highly reactive metallic particles. Therefore explosion protection measures usually also need to be considered. The high energetic content of metal dusts poses new challenges to conventional explosion protection systems in terms of robustness and response time. This paper reviews the special hazards of metal dusts and presents the state-of-the-art in terms of explosion protection.