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Friday, July 1, 2022

The environmental impact of fire protection in construction

Ian King, COO Zeroigntion, investigates the environmental impact of fire protection in construction and architecture and its true ability/limitations.

Following COP26, talks of sustainability are at an all-time high, and rightly so as the threat of irreversible climate change looms.

It’s fair to say the industry is being forced to reassess the materials they’re using to ensure they’re sustainable and cost-effective. This focus on sustainability has been propelled by legislation forging the UK’s path to net-zero emissions by 2050. Further, ESG factors (environmental, social and governance) in organisations are hugely important and there is increasing pressure on companies to be open and honest about their environmental impact.

Looking forward

Concrete has ruled the roost as the most popular building material in the UK for years. However, Ian King believes 2022 will reignite the focus on building with wood. This will allow faster and lower carbon builds, and also increase the amount of off-site construction. One benefit of modular construction is the enforced quality control, the off-site ‘factory’ type environment means greater safety checks can be made. This will help ensure each component meets industry standards. This could help improve the integrity of the build quality in the finished product, ensuring timber constructions can be as fire-safe as concrete and steel options.

Courtesy of Anders Vestergaard Jensen via Unsplash
Courtesy of Anders Vestergaard Jensen via Unsplash

Safe and sustainable

We all know wood burns, however, timber can provide the necessary two-hour window required for fire protection due to its slow rate of charring. Safety can be further enhanced if you use timber that has been treated with a specialist fire retardant, which will provide the material with an invisible shield to help protect against fire. There are five categories of Flame Retardants, keep reading to see how well they perform both in terms of fire safety and ecologically:

Halogenated flame retardants – commonly used in the electronics, construction products, textiles and coatings industries. Issue: This category should be avoided, as the release of chemicals in a fire can be very toxic and detrimental to people and the environment. 

Inorganic Flame Retardants – Found in paints, adhesives, wires and cables, and fabric coatings. Issue: Here, a variety of inorganic compounds are used. These inorganic flame retardants can cause environmental and health issues as they need to be combined with other types of flame retardants like Halogenated fire retardants.

Nitrogen Flame Retardants – Melamine-based products are the most commonly used nitrogen flame retardants. The advantage of Nitrogen flame retardants is the absence of dioxin and halogen acids as well as the low evolution of smoke. Issue: High quantities of these types of flame retardants need to be added to give the required fire retardant performance. This can potentially alter the structural integrity in certain materials. 

Intumescent Coatings – when fire hits, these coatings expand significantly to create a fire-resistant and insulating layer on the material surface. This can prevent or slow structural damage by deformation from the heat. Issue:These coatings can only be used for specific applications. They provide fire retardancy but offer no room-temperature thermal protection or insulating properties.

Phosphorus Flame Retardants – according to science this is the most environmentally friendly category and forms the basis of Zeroignition’s product portfolio of fire retardant additives. These flame retardants promote a char formation when exposed to fire, and generate less smoke compared to other fire retardant categories.

 

We possess a greater understanding of climate change than ever before, and this knowledge is influencing every aspect of society, including the manufacturing of fire retardants. Over the last decade, it’s become clear to Ian King that many products in this category are environmentally unfriendly, and we need to urgently address this situation.

https://www.zeroignition.com

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