Tests select fire-safe material

Virginia Tech material scientists have used a new model to recommend a fire-resistant composite for use in marine engineering.

John Bausano, a doctoral student in the chemistry-engineering interdisciplinary Macromolecular Science and Infrastructure Engineering program at Virginia Tech worked with Jack Lesko, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, to develop the technique.

Bausano used his testing method – a one-sided heat flux test that can be used on a sample as small as 2.5 cm by 15 cm – to test E-glass vinyl ester composite laminates. He heated one side of the material to simulate fire on one side of a wall. He then placed a load on one edge to simulate a load-bearing wall.

“We measure the deflection, failure, and how hot it gets on the cool side,” said Bausano. “That is an important issue because you don’t want the fire to spread.”

He found that the composite material being tested localised heat, “especially compared to steel, which conducts heat in all directions.”

Based on the results, Bausano’s recommendation for materials scientists developing marine materials was, “Develop the material with as high a glass transition (Tg) temperature as you can in order to sustain structural rigidity. That would help the engineers and the sailors. The longer the material stays above Tg, or the softening point, the longer the wall will stand. Tg is the upper temperature level of usefulness.”

Bausano said composite materials would also be useful on oil platforms, where fire is also a concern.