A polymer that transforms into a fireproof ceramic in a blaze is set to have a major impact on the $12 billion global passive fire-protection market, and stands to save many lives.
Fire accidents cause over 70,000 deaths and $115 billion worth of property damage a year worldwide.
The ceramifying polymers have been developed by CSIRO and the CRC for Polymers, and are being commercialised by CRC spin-off company Ceram Polymerik.
Vince Dowling, from CSIRO Manufacturing and Materials Technology, says the ceramifying polymers were developed for use in fire-resistant electric cables, by combining properties of a polymer with those of a ceramic.
"As the polymer melted and disintegrated in the heat, the ceramic formed a solid protective insulative layer, preventing short-circuits and enabling the current to keep flowing," Mr Dowling says.
Researchers are exploring ceramifying polymer fire protection of doors and windows, structural steel, ceilings and wall linings as well as in marine and transport areas and public infrastructure.
Typically polymers start to melt between 100 and 200 degrees and disintegrate completely around 300-400 degrees, whereas ceramics are typically formed at temperatures of 700 degrees and above. The trick was to develop materials that were stable between the degradation of the polymer and the formation of the ceramic.
Passive fire-protection -- materials and structural items that confine fires, giving people more time to escape, reducing damage and making a firefighter's job easier -- is a rapidly growing market. The increasing complexity and size of modern buildings and proliferation of tunnels and other complex spaces is driving a growing need for passive fire-protection.
Mr Dowling says the ceramifying polymers could save many lives when people are caught in burning buildings, oil rigs or in public infrastructure and transport.
"The aim is to contain the movement of heat and smoke between floors, rooms or compartments by sealing penetrations, prolonging stability or creating barriers to the passage of flames or smoke, and also to protect structural components," Mr Dowling says.
"We believe this technology can have applications in oil rigs, cargo ships, aircraft, tunnels, office blocks and other public buildings, including the defence sector."
The polymer technology for cable products, developed with cable specialists Olex, is expected to earn $75m over the next five years.
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