Researchers develop lightweight fire-retardant suits for firefighters

Friday, 04 February, 2022

Researchers develop lightweight fire-retardant suits for firefighters

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has developed a lightweight, fire-resistant safety suit, especially designed for Australian conditions, thanks to the development of a new inorganic compound. This will help keep emergency service workers safe during summer. ANSTO Thermal-Hydraulics Specialist Professor Guan Heng Yeoh said the new, nanosheet process would dramatically improve the composition of fire safety material. The new inorganic compound is made from metal carbides created at an atomic level, producing a coating which can be used in place of traditional fire protection measures.

“Protective suits made with traditional retardant use as much as 30–40% carbon compounds to achieve the fire-retardant properties, which makes them heavy,” Professor Yeoh said.

While there has been no need for innovation in fire-retardant compounds in cold weather climates like Europe, in Australia, simply wearing existing fire suits during summer can be a hazard. “This new process has great potential to revolutionise firefighting clothing and materials, which means new suits could be better designed to Australian conditions. Dehydration and fatigue can be fatal on the fire field. If we can avoid these, it will lead to better health, safety and decision-making, and most importantly it can save lives,” said Professor Yeoh, who is also the Director of the ARC Training Centre for Fire Retardant Materials and Safety Technologies at the University of NSW. Professor Yeoh added that the material could potentially be used on anything; because it can be applied as a post-treatment, it doesn’t complicate the manufacturing process.

When heat comes from above the surface of the material, it is conducted and moves along the nanosheets dispersing it. The nanosheets can also act as an additional layer or protection, like a heat shield. At the macro level, early tests have found the material to be an effective fire retardant. The process will now be explored further in a raft of different conditions. “We also need to look at the performance and characteristics of the material at higher temperatures up to 800°C,” Professor Yeoh said.

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