Trail blazer

The GCC has been hit by an alarming spate of fires recently and construction sites are not immune. Jamie Stewart discovers an environmentally-friendly fire protection fluid that sends fires running.
Trail blazer
By Jamie Stewart
Sat 28 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

The GCC has been hit by an alarming spate of fires recently and construction sites are not immune. Jamie Stewart discovers an environmentally-friendly fire protection fluid that sends fires running.

It could be something to do with the time of year, as the weather heats up and contractors prepare for the mid-day work ban. Or it could have something to do with the plethora of construction sites sprouting up across the region.

Either way, the GCC has been hit by a worrying series of fires of late, a fact which has prompted action from local civil defence teams. In the Dubai emirate, Dubai Civil Defence (DCC) have launched what has been described as one of its largest ever inspection campaigns.

In the emirate, more than 300 fires have broken out in the first five months of this year.

In the emirate, home to one of the largest concentrations of construction sites on the globe, more than 300 fires have broken out in the first five months of this year, 5% of which have been major incidents.

Major General Rashid Thani Al Matroushi, director of DCC, said that among this spate of massive fire accidents, warehouses, factories and, of great concern to the construction industry - labour camps, are areas that have been prone to blazes.

Against the backdrop of this trend comes Novec 1230 fire protection fluid. Novec was designed and manufactured by 3M as an environmentally friendly alternative to halon gasses.

As Schome Bag, 3M marketing specialist, explains: "By 1993, halons were substantially banned because of their depletion of the ozone. The original product, Halon 1301, had serious problems. While Halon 1211 was an improvement it was still unacceptable, and halon was phased out."

The environmental credentials of Novec are one of the major selling points that the manufacturer is keen to communicate.

The fluid does not deplete ozone, has an atmospheric lifetime of just five days, and has been given a global warming potential (GWP) of '1' by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.

This GWP figure is put into context when compared against Halon 1301 and Halon 1211, which have GWP of 6,900 and 1,300 respectively.

Halon was in popular use for many years due to the fact that it did not damage machinery or electrical goods when administered, which is another property boasted by Novec.

The fluid can be discharged in either liquid or gas form which is good news for any construction site.Hydro fluorine carbons (HFCs) were also in wide use for a time as an alternative to Halon gasses. HFCs did not deplete ozone, but their life span was short lived.

"In the late 1990s, as concern about climate change grew, the Kyoto Protocol addressed the heightened concern for emissions of greenhouse gasses including HFCs," Bag says.

"The concern was well justified, because a 320kg HFC fire system has a global warming impact equivalent to the emissions of 241 cars driven for a year, six railway cars of coal burned, or over a million kg of carbon dioxide emitted."

The fluid does not deplete ozone and has an atmospheric lifetime of just five days.

Watching a demonstration of Novec, it appears a seemingly innocuous liquid. It looks like water, and, like water, it does not harm the human body. It does, however, send fire running for the hills.

To demonstrate the harmlessness of Novec to electrical goods, Bag happily places his mobile phone in a glass of the fluid, and asks a colleague to give him a call.

As the phone starts to ring, Bag pours a further glass of Novec over the keyboard of his fully functioning laptop. The temptation is to shout "NO!!" and leap across the desk, before grabbing the glass from his hand. But he seems to know what he is doing.

"The fluid will evaporate 50 times as fast as water," he says. "Basically, in developing this fluid we sought to strike a balance between concern for human life, and concern for environmental sustainability."

To date, Novec has been adopted in the GCC by Qatar Gas, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), and Dubai Petroleum. Price is based on the area that will be protected by the system. At present 3M is quoting US $250 - 300 per m2 of protection.

So the case for Novec: Puts out fires. Check. Environmentally friendly. Check. So the big question. How, exactly, does it work?

Bag says: "The fluid starts as a liquid, so can be transported easily. This makes filling and emptying discharge systems straight forward. When dispersed with a pressurised nitrogen system its properties allow it to quickly become a gas. It is a high molecular weight material, so as a gas, Novec is heavier than air. It is suitable for use in total flooding applications."

It's time for the construction industry to prove it is serious about sustainability beyond the marketing campaigns. The adoption of a single product may seem like a small step but, as the saying goes, every little step helps.

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