Transforming polymers blaze a trail

CSIRO have unveiled a polymer that transforms into a fireproof ceramic in a blaze which prevents electrical short-circuits and could stop flames spreading between rooms.


CSIRO has unveiled a polymer that transforms into a fireproof ceramic in a blaze which prevents electrical short-circuits and could stop flames spreading between rooms.



The ceramifying polymers have been developed by CSIRO and the CRC for Polymers, and are being commercialised by CRC spin-off company Ceram Polymerik. Vince Dowling, from CSIRO Manufacturing and Materials Technology, said the ceramifying polymers were developed for use in fire-resistant electric cables by combining properties of a polymer with those of a ceramic.



‘As the polymer melted and disintegrated in the heat, the ceramic formed a solid protective insulating layer, preventing short-circuits and enabling the current to keep flowing,’ Dowling said.



Researchers are exploring ceramifying polymer fire protection of doors and windows, structural steel, ceilings and wall linings as well as in marine and transport areas and public infrastructure.



Typically polymers start to melt between 100 and 200oC and disintegrate completely around 300-400oC, whereas ceramics are typically formed at temperatures of 700oC and above. The trick was to develop materials that were stable between the degradation of the polymer and the formation of the ceramic.



Passive fire-protection, namely materials and structural items that confine fires, giving people more time to escape, reducing damage and making a firefighter’s job easier, is a rapidly growing market. The increasing complexity and size of modern buildings and proliferation of tunnels and other complex spaces is also driving the growing need for passive fire-protection.



Dowling believes the ceramifying polymers could save many lives when people are caught in burning buildings, oilrigs or in public infrastructure and transport.



‘The aim is to contain the movement of heat and smoke between floors, rooms or compartments by sealing penetrations, prolonging stability or creating barriers to the passage of flames or smoke, and also to protect structural components,’ Dowling said. ‘We believe this technology can have applications in oil rigs, cargo ships, aircraft, tunnels, office blocks and other public buildings, including the defence sector.’