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Fire turns this polymer composite into a rigid protective barrier

| By Chementator

A new-type of polymer composite has recently been commercialized by Ceram Polymerik Pty Ltd. (Melbourne, Australia; for passive fire-protection applications. Passive fire protection consists of using a material or structure that confines fires, giving people more time to escape while reducing structural damage. The new composite is based on technology that transforms plastics and rubbers into a fireproof ceramic during a fire. The company exported its first product a few months ago to Lorient Polyproducts Ltd. (Devon, U.K.), who will use the product to manufacture door-edge protectors for fire doors.

In conventional polymer composites, inorganic components such as talc and calcium carbonate are widely used as fillers and reinforcements; but such composites simply melt during a fire. Ceram Polymerik’s composites are a complex mixture of refractory components, including silicate minerals, fluxing agents and other inorganic compounds. The composites can be processed on conventional extrusion and injection-molding equipment, says Fenton Long, business-development manager at Ceram Polymerik.

At normal service temperatures, these composites behave like conventional polymer composites, explains Long. In a fire, low-melting-point inorganic components act as fluxing agents, which bind the refractory fillers together (diagram) as the polymer burns off. A solid or semi-porous ceramic structure (photo) is left behind, which retains the integrity of the original article, thus acting as a fire barrier. The ceramic is stable even at temperatures of more than 1,000°C, he says.

The technology evolved from research by the Cooperative Research Center for Polymers (CRC; Notting Hill, Victoria, Australia) in conjunction with Olex Australia (Melbourne; Olex first commercialized the technology with its Pyrolex Ceramifiable fire cable; such cables form a ceramic insulation layer in the event of a fire, thus preventing short circuits and allowing the current to continue to flow. Ceram Polymerik, a spin-off company of CRC, was established to commercialize the technology for passive fire control materials.