Chemical engineers at the University of Adelaide (UoA) have partnered with mining engineers at Western Australia graphene producer First Graphite to develop a fire retardant polymer in Australia for the first time.
The team is developing a toxic-free, low-cost fire retardant for the building industry which it intends to be instrumental in preventing future combustible cladding disasters like Melbourne’s Docklands’ high-rise fire in 2014 and London’s devastating Grenfell Tower inferno in June.
With the non-halogenated flame retardants market forecast to exceed US$3.4 billion by 2024, and up to 10,000 buildings in Australia covered in combustible cladding, fire resistance is a hot topic.
Graig McGuckin, managing director of First Graphite (FGR), has been in the mining, drilling and petroleum industries for 26 years as a senior planning engineer and mine manager. He said society’s realisation that flammable building cladding is common has focused attention on fire retardant materials.
Graphene is the world’s strongest known material, able to withstand up to 700 degrees. Hence, the collaboration is focusing on two product lines: fire resistant wall materials including particle board chipboard and gyproc; and graphene paints for coating wallpaper, fibres, wood fences and building cladding. Oher prospective uses are protective fabric coating on uniforms and for the military. A second round of testing on a modified version of graphene is currently in progress to prove if it is successful as a fire retardant additive in the thermoplastics industry.
Professor Dusan Losic of UoA’s School of Chemical Engineering is director of the Australian Graphene Research Hub which is spearheading the commercial potential of graphene and has conducted extensive testing on FireStop with FGR’s graphene as the primary ingredient.
FGR has revealed that test work has involved bench scale tests for the preparation of FireStop solutions at different graphene concentration levels.
“All results have been very positive to date with the large platelet size of the FGR graphene offering useful advantages,” the company stated.
“Different coating thicknesses are being evaluated and initial results show that FireStop coatings are effective at only 33% of the thickness of competitor products. This has obvious commercial advantages, particularly if effectiveness is achieved with only one coat.”
FGR will focus on the optimal mixture and application methods to develop a product to be sent for independent testing to an organisation like the CSIRO.
Image: Fire retardant behaviour of uncoated and coated wood (video). Source: First Graphite.