New Paint Could Prevent Spread of Bushfires

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2023


A new fire-retardant paint has reportedly become the first to pass the Bushfire Attack Level 40 standard testing, which assesses the bushfire resistance of buildings and construction materials.

The paint was formulated by engineers at the University of New South Wales Sydney, in partnership with Flame Security International.

About the Paint

According to UNSW, the team spent five years to perfect the formula, ensuring that the paint incorporated the best fire-retardant properties. The work was led by School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Professor Guan Yeoh.

The product, branded as FSA Firecoat, is an intumescent paint designed to expand as a result of heat exposure. Additionally, the chemicals in the paint produce a thick layer of char to offer an insulating barrier and deflect the heat from the fire away.

“The special additives we include in the paint mix formula promote the growth of the char, which is the important insulating element. The char is what helps the substrate, that is your house or your building, stay protected from the fire,” said Yeoh, director of the ARC Training Centre for Fire Retardant Materials and Safety Technologies.

“In the rigorous tests you can see this char being created, but at the end you can just wipe it away and the wood underneath has virtually no damage.”

Yeoh explained that one challenge the team faced was to ensure the all-important char would not fall off vertical surfaces such as external walls. The char needed to remain firmly in place to continue to work as a fire barrier.

“Forming a char on a horizontal surface is fine, but for this application we needed to include additives into the paint formula to ensure the char would also hold very well on vertical surfaces. Which is a challenge,” added Yeoh.

“If it just falls off, that defeats the whole purpose. The char—which is basically pockets of air and carbon—can be more than 50mm thick, so retaining it in place can be tricky. But it’s so important because it’s providing the insulation and preventing the penetration of the heat.”

The university said that one of the advantages of the new paint is that it does not need any special equipment to apply it, meaning it can be brushed or sprayed onto a variety of surfaces. This includes existing render, timber, aluminium, steel, concrete, plasterboard and brick.

The carbon ingredient means that FSA Firecoat is only available in grey, but any standard colored topcoat can reportedly be applied without affecting the fire-retardant properties.

Yeoh added the new fire-retardant paint could help prevent bushfires from spreading over a wider area, given the fact it protects buildings from burning down.

The carbon ingredient means that FSA Firecoat is only available in grey, but any standard colored topcoat can reportedly be applied without affecting the fire-retardant properties.

“If a building is not protected in any way and it starts to burn then it can become a source of heat for the fire to continue, like a chain reaction,” he said. “So we can say this paint assists in limiting the spread of bushfires because it prevents a building from igniting and therefore compounding the original fire.

“Many people are saying that we are currently experiencing a dry season. But when it is a dry season, that often means that bushfires are just around the corner. We wanted to push the boundary with this paint so we did tests on probably 200 different formulas in the first couple of years of research before we arrived at the best one.

“That was using very high-grade materials, which would have made the paint too expensive to produce, so we then tested again with more commercially available ingredients to ensure we got the same performance in a final product that people can afford.”

Tony Overstead, CEO of Flame Security International, said: “The release of this fully accredited BAL-40 rated fire retardant paint, we believe, will better protect buildings and other assets from direct exposure to flames and extreme radiant heat.

“This will make a significant difference not only to the cost of building in affected areas, but also the potential risks to life and property.”

The paint is now available at Bunnings stores. It was partially funded through a Cooperative Research Centers Projects grant from the Australian government.

BAL-40 Rating Test

BAL-40 indicates that a building or material has been tested and approved to withstand higher levels of radiant heat (up to 40kW/m²) and ember attack during a bushfire, and therefore provides increased protection against bushfires in areas prone to extreme fire conditions.

For the testing, an external windowed building facade was reportedly treated with the new paint and exposed to the flame attack of a BAL-40 furnace for 10 minutes.

This facade was made up of timber weatherboard, specifically radiata pine. This is the most combustible and commonly used timber in Australia, the university explains.

FSA Firecoat paint was applied as a primer and undercoat paint, before a standard commercial Dulux topcoat was added.

During the flame attack, the facade was monitored using thermocouples to test the internal and rear temperatures and to determine the ability of the UNSW-developed paint to protect the structural integrity of the building facade.

Additionally, it was tested to see how the paint could prevent the flames from spreading to the inside and rear of the facade over 60 minutes.

The paint succeeded in passing all six of the stringent criteria, UNSW states, the first time any paint has achieved the BAL-40 rating.

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coating chemistry; Coating Materials - Commercial; Coatings Technology; Coatings technology; Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Controls; Fire; Fireproofing; Health & Safety; Intumescent; Latin America; North America; Paint; Passive Fire Protection; Program/Project Management; Research and development; Testing + Evaluation; Z-Continents

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