In the 21st century, our households are filled with appliances to make life easier. One primary concern with these developments is the material they are made up of. Plastics are used in almost all of our everyday appliances. Take a glance at your surroundings. How much of it is made of plastic?
Even beneath the walls, you have electric cables made of plastics. Plastics are inherently not fire resistant. Made from various polymers and fossil fuels, cheap plastics can cost you a fortune if a fire breaks out. Accidental fires can ignite in unpredictable ways and spread relentlessly, laying waste to entire households. Heating appliances and other electronic devices have caused more than 23.5% of fires in Australian households.
In the past, plastics might just have been a source of fire danger. But since plastic is lightweight, can be moulded into various shapes, and processed to achieve fire-resistant properties, the material is the perfect choice for high-temperature applications. Fire-resistant plastic replaced metals to become the material opted for making fire safety products.
What Are The Basic Aspects That Make Plastic Fire Safe?
Inherently, most plastics are excellent fuels and are combustible like wood, paper, and rubber. In layman’s terms, they will ignite, burn, support combustion or release flammable vapours on coming in contact with fire or heat. But they can be made fire resistant by altering their properties.
Plastics can never be 100% fireproof. They can be processed to make them either fire-resistant plastic, flame retardant plastic, non-flammable plastic or inherently self-extinguishing by processing it with other additives. Adding compounds like hydrated magnesium oxide or aluminium oxide alone or with phosphorus or bromine compounds gives plastics fire-resistant properties. These plastics are used in fire-sensitive and critical equipment where even a slight drop in quality could be disastrous.
Selecting the right kind of fire-resistant plastic is crucial to your product’s longevity and the user’s safety. Plastic might not prevent fires, but it can ameliorate the risks of fire spreading beyond the product. From EVs to all our appliances, the plastic used needs to clear various fire rating classifications and standards. The class or grade of fire resistance depends on the usage of the end product and the potential danger to human lives.
Is Plastic Really Self-Extinguishing?
Before answering this question, we must understand what self-extinguishing plastic means. Self-extinguishing plastics don’t support combustion in the absence of an outside flame. They might be unable to put out flames that are already burning, but they can help minimise the damage by not contributing further to the fuel.
Such plastics are a necessity for high-temperature applications. The ability to resist fire and keep functioning during a fire outbreak depends on several factors, one of the most crucial being the thickness of the plastic. The material, its structure, and the additives used are other factors that affect the functionality of the plastic in the event of a fire.
In-Depth Analysis Of Fire Resistant Plastic
Desired Effects of Additives On Plastics Flammability
Doping or processing plastics always needs to be done with an end goal in mind. With modern technology, we can achieve innumerable properties that we desire in a material. But we need to factor in the costs attached and the end goal of the product.
Here are the properties we desire for fire resistant plastics:
- Increased Ignition Resistance: Amplifying the ignition resistance reduces the chances of the product catching fire, making them unsuitable for burning.
- Lower Speed Of Flame Spread: Upon catching fire, the rate at which the flame travels is crucial to how it affects the flammable materials around it. Reducing the flame speed provides more time to deal with accidents and control them sooner, reducing the amount of property damage as well.
- Reduction in Smoke and Fume Generation: High smoke and fumes in a fire creates havoc and reduces visibility, making fire safety and rescue operations more hazardous and difficult. Lower smoke and fumes in an emergency make the work of the fire rescue team much easier, potentially saving many lives.
What Additives Help In Achieving Fire Resistant Properties?
Are you wondering what additives are used and how they affect the plastic? Here’s a list of additive compounds used to make HDPE fire resistant:
- Halogen-Based Additives:
Halogens like Bromine and Chlorine are added to polyethylene while processing to make fire-retardant compounds. Polyethylene is made using a variety of unreactive fillers. In halogens, the most commonly used additives are brominated compounds.
These compounds work by breaking down at high temperatures forming water and bromide radicals to quench the fire.
- Antimony Trioxide:
Adding antimony trioxide helps enhance the fire-retardant properties of plastic and works by slowing down the combustion process. Antimony Trioxide is commonly paired with a brominated compound and then used to process Polyethylene.
- Phosphorus Compound:
Phosphorus-containing compounds are also used similarly to Antimony Trioxide and are paired up with a brominated compound. Phosphorus flame retardants work by promoting charring. When a fire breaks out, the compound releases phosphoric acid, producing a thick layer of carbon, cutting off the fuel needed for keeping the fire alive.
- Hydrated Aluminium Oxide or Magnesium Oxide:
Hydrated Aluminium Oxide or Magnesium Oxide are added individually or in combination with bromine or phosphorus compounds. These additives are used mainly in the making of low-density Polyethylene. Hydrated Aluminium Oxide or Magnesium Oxide works by releasing water and forming a fire barrier by charring upon catching fire. The best part about these additives is that they are non-toxic, non-volatile and eco-friendly.
Rating and Classification
The next step in producing fire-resistant plastic products is to get them certified and rated. Ratings and classification of plastics are performed on the following criteria:
- Self-extinguishing of the material on the removal of heat source.
- Propagation speed and travel of flame once it catches fire.
- Resistance to ignition.
Why are Fire-resistant Plastics such a Big Deal?
In life-or-death situations, plastic fire safety products are life savers. Due to their lightweight nature and versatility, firefighters can carry more products into a burning building or other hazardous situations. Fire safety products made of plastics are not just lightweight but also have fantastic durability, making them easy to use in the event of a fire, even for civilians.
Fire-resistant materials have found more applications than just fire safety products, these fire-resistant materials are also used in products like Electric Vehicles, high-temperature applications, chemical plants and so on, to help prevent and contain fires during unfortunate accidents.
With over two decades of experience, FSP Australia is one of the most trusted brands in manufacturing fire accessories. From heavy-duty extinguishers cabinets to cable reels, we have a broad range of products for harsh operational conditions. Fires can happen anytime without warning, so you must be prepared!