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Fire Safety & Environmentally Friendly Technology

by Greg Preston
Fire safety and Environmentally Friendly Technology

Fire safety and environmentally friendly technology – a need for research: Fire research can contribute to the development and implementation of environmentally-friendly technology. RISE Fire Research (Norway) here describes a few fire related issues relevant to the current research focus seen from a Norwegian perspective.

Global goals to reduce the negative effects on the environment from human activities have paved the way for rapid development of a number of environmentally friendly technologies. To contribute to the global objectives, the Norwegian government has set up strategic areas of focus with respect to research, including environment, climate, sea farming, energy and new materials. There are many examples that new technology leads to new fire safety issues. To ensure effective implementation of new and environmentally-friendly technology, it is therefore crucial that fire research is synchronized with rapid technological development.

Norwegian research focus

The research focus in Norway largely reflects the topics of concern in the EU, and the environment and “green” technology is a common thread in many strategic areas of focus. Renewable energy is an important topic within the general category of energy research, together with flexible energy systems, energy use, politics, society and economy and new technology. The oil and gas industry has a need for research to increase energy efficiency, reduce emissions, ensure safe operations by good barrier management, and also to deal with production and possible emissions in an environmentally friendly way.

Within the transport category, research on sustainable and efficient transport systems is important, and also research on transport solutions with low emissions and the development of good and effective technical solutions. Nano technology is one of the fastest growing technologies today, and it is a stated goal that knowledge and development of nanotechnology shall be used to strengthen Norwegian business development and contribute to the development of solutions to major challenges in the community. An example is the focus on how new materials can help to reduce the negative effects on the environment, and there is a need for more knowledge about how nanomaterials can affect health and the environment.

In general, there is a request for knowledge of how contaminants are spreading to the environment through a product’s lifetime, and how new, potentially environmentally hazardous substances can be measured and analyzed. Good solutions to prevent pollution are to be developed.

A need for more fire research with an environmental perspective

Good knowledge of fire safety is needed with regard to the environmental impact from a fire and with regard to the environmental impact of materials meant to protect against fire.

A fire does not constitute only a local hazard to people and material, but also contributes to pollution of both air and water through smoke and extinguishing water. Additives in some extinguishing agents additives that have been shown to be harmful have been used. These are now replaced, but there is a need for more knowledge about the extinguishing efficiency of the substitutes, as well as their impact on the environment. Another important environmental effect is that buildings and other objects that may burn, besides destroying or damaging property, also create waste that cannot be recycled.

New technology creates new challenges with regard to understand fire development, including smoke production and the toxicity of smoke. In line with the development and application of new materials and solutions, there is not only a need to achieve new knowledge about fire behaviour, but also about how the fire service should handle the incidents.

We see an increased use of combustible materials in both furnishing and structures in buildings as a consequence of the trends and requirements for energy efficiency. This increases the need for protection against ignition and fire spread, and this must be done in a way that is safe for health and the environment throughout the life span of the materials. EU regulations for circular economy will affect Norway, especially with regard to objectives for the recycling of materials and restrictions on landfills, since it will go further than the present Norwegian regulations. This may affect how materials can be used and combined in various products, especially the use of flame retardant additives.

Some chemical flame retardants have been shown to affect health and the environment negatively. To maintain a required level of security, these have been phased out and replaced with other solutions. Through further research, alternative methods to achieve increased fire safety in different materials can be obtained without the use of solutions that have negative consequences for the environment. New energy carriers and sources of energy also create challenges in terms of fire safety. An example is possible strategies for fire extinguishment in photo voltaic panels, another area where more knowledge is required is fire safe materials in batteries and wind mills.

In the oil industry, there has traditionally been a high focus on fire safety, since a fire can have catastrophic consequences on an offshore facility. However, fire can also be a useful tool. Concerning oil spills on the sea surface, in situ burning of oil can be an efficient part of the response in order to avoid exposure of nature and wildlife to the oil. There is still a need for new knowledge about how and under what conditions in situ burning is optimal compared to other methods. Environmentally friendly and fireproof building materials will make buildings more resilient, and can also expand the application areas for existing buildings outside the use they originally were intended for.

Ongoing and future work

RISE Fire Research has previously had a number of projects that have dealt with fire safety and the environment, and will also focus on fire related issues that are described in this article in the future. Today we have activities within the following topics:

  • environmentally friendly fire safety in connection with upholstered furniture, mattresses and fabrics for interior furnishing
  • fire extinguishing methods and systems
  • energy-efficient construction methods and building materials, e.g. polymers and cross laminated timber (CLT)
  • Alternative energy carriers in the transport sector, e.g. batteries and hydrogen
  • photo voltaic panels

Please feel free to contact us if you are interested in the topic of fire safety and environmentally friendly technology.

RISE Fire Research conducted two full scale fire tests of electric cars in March 2017 in collaboration with Skien Fire Service, the University College of Southeast Norway and Grenland Energy. The objective of the tests was to get more information about the knowledge gaps that still exist when it comes to electric cars and fire: how much water is required to extinguish a fire in an electric car where the battery has reached thermal runaway? How fast can a fire spread to the battery if your car starts to burn as a result of heating from an external fire source (fire spread, arson, etc.)? How unstable will a battery be after a powerful collision? Photos: Andreas S. Bøe.

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