Firefighter: This closed-cell foam will be used as
insulation and protection against fire in buildings, aircraft, and other
Present Position: Principal Research Engineer, Georgia
Institute of Technology
Degrees: B.S. in nuclear engineering, M.S. in engineering, and Ph.D. in engineering physics, University of Florida
How does closed cell foam insulation work? There are two stages. During the first stage, the foam generates a barrier made of a hard, charred surface under intense fire conditions. It's like building a wall of rocks able to take on large amounts of heat. The second stage allows for the material to intumesce, or expand. This stage inserts another barrier made of air, a good insulator. Physically, it is like having a closed-cell foam mat inside of a wall.
How did the idea of developing insulating foam to fight fire come about? We knew building insulation could use some improvement and we also knew of the advantages of intumescent paints, which add a volumizing agent for additional fire protection. We thought of marrying the process these paints use with closed cell foam. Closed cell foam is already used in everyday life in all sorts of things—auto and aircraft door seals, mattress material, Astroturf—really anything that you think of that is cushiony but will bounce back to its original shape when pressure is applied.
How could design engineers use closed cell foam technology? The transit authority in Atlanta has asked us to design a system to protect the passenger car from fires because their natural gas engines have a problem with overheating. Also, the Air Force has inquired about using the foam to coat the fuel lines in fighter aircraft engines where there are a lot of fuel lines.
What has been the greatest challenge in developing the foam? We are trying to find additives that activate at very high temperatures (between 600 and 700C) so that the additives don't activate while testing the product. Also, finding additives that are compatible with the foam has been a challenge.
When will the foam be commercially available? We anticipate having something within a year.