A hot issue: Fire-retardant coatings

Events such as the tragic fire of the Grenfell Tower in London this year have underlined the importance of fire protection. What coatings can provide, where industry trends go and legislatory aspects were in the focus of the European Coatings Fire Forum.

A hot issue: Fire-retardant coatings. Image: adam121-Fotolia -

Over 80 experts on fire retardant coatings and other industries related to fire protection gathered in October in Berlin to discuss the latest innovations and research in the field. Keynote speaker Dr Phillipe Salemis of CEFIC (The European Chemical Industry Council) gave an introduction into fire safety and flame retardants. Underlining that fire has always been human’s friend but foe at the same time, he emphasised the importance of fire safety. A strong focus of Salemis’ speech were legislatory and regulatory restrictions and public concerns against flame retardants. How much legislation is shaping the sector also became evident in a survey where half of the conference participants voted that legislation will have a great impact, more than everything else.

While PIN flame retardants are not under legislatory pressure, other flame retardant substances are, and another issue might be Circular Economy since recycling plays a more important role in the regulatory process, Salemis explained. As many flame retardants are tailored to the need of one application, recycling might pose problems.

As a recyclable material wood is gaining ever so much popularity as a building material. The challenge to protect wood from fire was widely discussed. Dr Albert Rössler of Adler Lacke stressed that wood is the best way to build ecologically. In his presentation he introduced a novel organophosphorus based transparent flame retardant without halogenated substances or formaldehyde. On the second day of the conference, Dr Hans-Joachim Weintz of J.W.Ostendorf presented the cross-sectoral “REACTA FIRE” project which aims to support the use of wood as a sustainable material with sustainable fire protective coatings that are water-based and emission-free and do not contain halogenes, boron or phosphor.

Sustainability gains importance

The increasing importance of sustainability was reflected in many conference presentations. Prof Giulio Malucelli of Politecno di Torino, for instance, presented his approach of using biomacromolecules as fire retardant coatings for fabrics and plastics. Showing his test results, he concluded that biomacromolecules can indeed be a possible, more sustainable, alternative to chemical fire retardants and that there is potential to limit the current drawback of higher costs.

Another hot topic was the protection of steel. The assessment of the thermal performance of intumescent coatings for steel its mostly assessed with small scale fire tests. But since Europe has established harmonised rules for the design of structural steel, steel elements with intumescent coatings can also be designed with regard to natural fire scenarios. Prof Peter Schaumann from the University of Hanover stressed the importance of testing thermal performance for the exposure to other heat rates than the ISO-standard fire conditions. He presented three-dimensional finite-element-method which can be used to predict heating behaviour of coated steel and explained how experimental data helps to investigate insulation efficiency of intumescent coatings.

By Vanessa Bauersachs

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