Saval Fire Protection has been working on reducing the amount of fluorine compounds in fire-extinguishing foam since 1999. But a major breakthrough was only made in 2012, when the company registered for a TNO innovation programme for SMEs. Partly thanks to years of collaboration with materials experts from TNO, Saval has now succeeded in achieving their aim, bringing a fluorine-free foam fire extinguisher onto the market. And that is good news, especially for marine life.
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“Foam extinguishers are indispensable,” explains Wim Kwakkenbos, product manager at Saval. “Using just 6 litres of foam you can extinguish a fire that the fire brigade would need at least 25 litres of water to put out.” But to be effective, that foam always needed a special fluorine compound. And that’s not the fluoride that you find in your toothpaste, but a chemical fluorine compound that is comparable to the non-stick coating on your frying pan. These fluorine compounds are very strong, but if they end up in the environment they do not break down.
No fluorine compounds in the environment
Fire-extinguishing foam is not the only product that contains these special fluorine compounds. The same chemicals are also used in other products such as paint, packaging and the coatings used to make furniture fabrics dirt-repellent. A small amount of those fluorine compounds eventually ends up in the sea, where it poses a risk to the health of marine life. The only solution is to ensure that these substances no longer end up in the environment.
“We were very pleased and surprised to be able to participate in TNO’s SBIR programme”
“Naturally, there was a very good reason for adding these fluorine compounds to fire-extinguishing foam, and it turned out to be incredibly difficult to find substitutes. That’s why we were very pleased and surprised to be able to participate in TNO’s SBIR programme, and we discovered that they might have found a solution to the problem. The funny thing was that the TNO researchers had developed this technology to be able to extinguish fires more effectively, and they hadn’t actually realized that the use of fluorine in fire-extinguishing foam was even a problem,” recalls Kwakkenbos.
Collaboration was essential
“And that is the great thing about this innovation programme: we really owe the development of this new solution to the knowledge of TNO’s materials experts. We could never have done this working alone. And TNO, on the other hand, had little practical knowledge about fire fighting and would not have developed a fluorine-free fire-extinguishing foam on their own initiative either. So it was the collaboration that was essential, enabling us to develop an innovative new product that also meets all the relevant requirements.”
“We really owe the development of this new solution to the knowledge of TNO’s materials experts”
100 per cent reliable
“Those requirements really are very demanding,” says project leader Eric Craenmehr, Principal Research Engineer at TNO. “That’s absolutely essential, of course, because if a fire breaks out, you have to be fully confident that a foam extinguisher will do its job. And the foam must also have a long shelf life – five years at least. Wim and his colleagues at Saval also had quite a few additional requirements. To speed up the process, here at TNO we developed an effective testing method at the laboratory level. That allowed us to test many different foam variations in a short time, so that we could narrow down the number of directions we were working in and then go on to develop the best formulations and further refine the properties of the foam.”
“Here at TNO, we developed an effective testing method at the laboratory level”
After Saval and TNO had found the desired formulation and subjected the foam to larger-scale fire tests, it was time to have the product certified by an independent testing institute. “That process has been successful. So now our range includes a fluorine-free foam fire extinguisher,” says Kwakkenbos proudly. “It’s an important step for our company, but also for the environment!”
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Would you like TNO to team up with your SME too? No problem! We run a knowledge-transfer programme that introduces entrepreneurs to the latest state-of-the-art technology. We regularly form partnerships with small and medium-sized businesses.