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New fireproof insulation derived from paper

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 31 January, 2003  (New Product)
What can happen when steel girders soften during a fire was sadly illustrated by the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Civil engineers in Germany, as in most European countries, are well aware that the use of asbestos materials as fire insulation for load-bearing structures is prohibited by building regulations, such as the code of practice for working with hazardous materials.
The same regulations prescribe stringent work-safety measures to be observed during the renovation or demolition of old buildings. Consequently, construction firms are looking for economic alternative materials which possess similar properties but do not pose the same health risks as asbestos and other mineral fibers, especially during construction work. Wolfgang Christ is one of the researchers working on the development of alternatives to sprayed asbestos: 'The particular advantage of my invention is that cheap cellulose recovered from waste paper is used as the fiber reinforcement.'

It might seem strange to qualify wood derivatives and paper as a heat-resistant insulating material, given that they are more usually considered as combustibles. But, as Christ explains, it's all a question of mixing the cellulose with the right proportions of mineral components. 'There are a number of inoffensive boron compounds which melt in contact with fire, forming a protective coating around the fibers. The incombustible mixture sinters and becomes even more solid, without causing any significant loss of the material's thermal insulation properties.' By optional addition of graphite, a particular extinguishing effect can be achieved. Mixed with standard commercial binders, the material is easy to process. It adheres well - even in thick layers - and also protects the steel against corrosion.

There are no other products on the market at present which demonstrate properties that are as comparable to sprayed asbestos. But even the new product exists only as laboratory samples so far. 'We are now looking for companies capable of manufacturing the material on an industrial scale,' comments Hans-Karl von Engel of the Fraunhofer Patent Center for German Research PST, who is in charge of the new invention for which patents have been granted in three European countries. 'And when we issue a license, we expect the company to be capable of handling the logistics and product marketing as well.' Consequently, the Patent Center has been concentrating its search on companies active in the sectors of fire protection and building chemistry.
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