Australian researchers have invented a plastic that changes to a fireproof ceramic in a fire.
Researcher Vince Dowling said the manufacturer plans to capitalize on the global A$12 billion (US$9.1 billion) passive fire protection market.
The polymers have been used in a sheath for electrical cables and will be exported to the United Kingdom for use on doors and windows.
The technology is owned by Melbourne-based Ceram Polymerik Pty. Ltd. It was developed by Melbourne-based researchers from the federal government's scientific agency, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization, Monash University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
Dowling, a CSIRO manufacturing and materials technology researcher, said the plastic took nine years to develop.
“CSIRO had the fire technology, Monash had ceramic technology and RMIT had polymer technology. Ceram kept us all together and made sure the project was headed in the right direction,” he said.
The polymers can contain movement of heat and smoke between buildings' floors, rooms or compartments by sealing gaps. They also prolong stability during a fire and create flame barriers.
Dowling said the so-called passive fire protection market is “ rapidly growing.”
“The increasing complexity and size of modern buildings and proliferation of tunnels and other complex spaces is driving a growing need,” he said.
Structural applications for the plastics include fire protection for marine and transport industries, gap seals for concrete wall panels, fire barriers for storage areas and structural steel protection.
Dowling said the technology is not restricted by resin type and works with plastics and rubber.
The first commercial application of the polymers was by Melbourne-based Olex Australia Pty. Ltd., as insulation for its new Pyrolex Ceramifiable high-performance fire cable. The ethylene propylene diene monomer cable is normally flexible, but forms a protective ceramic barrier when exposed to heat and fire. It continues to conduct electricity after being exposed to temperatures up to 1,832° F for two hours, according to researchers.
Dowling said the project is ongoing. “We are now working on other products for protecting structural steel work. If we can come up with a good, strong intumescent version, one that swells with heat, it will be a real boon for the building industry.”