Ceramic firefighting foam becomes stronger when temperature increases

A team of chemists from ITMO University, in collaboration with research company SOPOT, has developed a firefighting foam based on inorganic silica nanoparticles. The foam is claimed to beat existing analogues in fire extinguishing capacity, thermal and mechanical stability and biocompatibility.

Fighting large-scale fires usually involves firefighting foams based on synthetic substances, such as prefluorinated surfactants, that, despite their effectiveness, are extremely toxic for living organisms. Complete biodegradation of such foams can last for more than 200 years, with residues penetrating deep into soil and surface water. This leads to the accumulation of toxic elements in living organisms, such as plants, animals and people. Many countries have declined the use of such fire extinguishing agents or opted for reducing the production of such substances despite the absence of any decent alternatives.

The chemists’ foam has been awarded full biodegradability. After the fire is extinguished, the substance actively absorbs water, softens and falls apart into bioinert silica particles. If the foam were to accidentally enter living organisms, it does not pose a danger to them.

"Our foam is based on silica nanoparticles, which create a polymer network when exposed to air," said Alexander Vinogradov, deputy head of the SCAMT laboratory. "Such a network embraces and adheres to the burning object and momentarily cools it down. At the same time, the foam itself hardens. The inorganic origin of this polymer network allows it to resist temperatures above 1000°C, which ensures gigantic stability from the aggressive environment in the midst of a raging fire.”

The scientists conducted a series of large-scale experiments of the hardening foam, including the imitation of an actual forest fire. The foam was used to create a flame retardant belt that was supposed stop the spread of the fire. The tests demonstrated that the foam easily localises the forest fire seat and can stay active during the whole fire season.

"The flame retardant belt made of our foam will prevent the spread of any forest fire, regardless of its strength and level of complexity," says Gennady Kuprin, head of SOPOT. "We can localise the fire and be sure that the adjacent territories will be safe."

Author
Tom Austin-Morgan

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