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UMass Amherst scientists develop new fire-retardant polymer

A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst says they have created a flame-retardant synthetic ...


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June 1, 2007 by Canadian Plastics

A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst says they have created a flame-retardant synthetic polymer that doesn’t use traditional chemical additives.

According to a press release issued by the university, the research team led by UMass Amherst scientists Richard Farris, Bryan Coughlin and Todd Emrick presented an update on their project to representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the US Army.

Especially when it comes to flame-retardant plastics in aircrafts, “we’re shooting for a fire-proof cabin,” said FAA fire research program manager Richard Lyon. “To get there we have to invent plastics that don’t yet exist –plastics that don’t burn, or burn so slowly that there is ample time for passengers to escape from an aircraft fire.”

The new polymer, which uses bishydroxydeoxybenzoin (BHDB), has a naturally high char yield (70 per cent) and doesn’t contain any halogens. The polymer is clear, flexible and durable, and BHDN releases water vapour when breaking down in a fire.

“The great thing about BHDB is that it’s really a two-birds-with-one-stone approach for a new polymer,” said UMass Amherst’s Coughlin. “It’s extremely fire-safe, and does not contain halogenated additives, which are known to be environmentally hazardous.”

The team plans on making about two tons of BHDB for aircraft parts, and conducting additional tests. Down the line, the new flame-retardant polymer may end up in applications such as circuit boards, bus seats and household products.