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Exclusive: Foam solutions based on data


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Transitioning away from PFAS based foam agents presents challenges, but Fomtec already has solutions writes John Olav Ottesen, Managing Director and founder of Dafo Fomtec AB 

With inventories of PFAS based foams which run to tens of millions of litres, the Middle East Region will face major challenges as legislation in Europe and the USA impacts the availability and even restriction of foam manufacturers to make and supply these products in the current decade.  

The concerns of the environmental impact of PFAS is leading to legislation in the US, Europe and Australia, aimed at controlling and limiting the further dispersion of PFAS into the air, land or water. Whilst it would be speculation to say that the countries in the region will follow legislation in place or pending from the US or the EU, the largest manufacturers of firefighting foam agents are based in the US and EU. If the legislation restricts the manufacture and supply of fluoro-based chemicals to the foam agent manufacturers then these products would no longer be available for end users in this region. 

The good news is that R&D efforts by Fomtec and other foam agent manufacturers has seen a growing number of synthetic fluorine free foams (SFFF) being launched and sold. A lot of focus has been on the differences in performance and operational challenges of deploying these new SFFF agents in an emergency response mission. For many industries that utilise and store Class B, and to a lesser extent Class A fuels, fixed head foam systems are the primary defence against fire. These systems have a finite availability of foam concentrate and once this has been used up the system will just be flowing water.  

The desire from all existing foam users is to have a “drop-in” replacement. Aside from cleaning issues and removing the PFAS foam concentrate from the existing system, the wish is that once the old foam is removed that they can fill the tank with a new SFFF agent, and that the system will provide them with the same level of protection. As a manufacturer of foam agents, Fomtec already knows that SFFF agents don’t perform the same as the PFAS based agents, so we embarked on our “Enviro Programme” with the goal of developing high performance SFFF agents and foam hardware combinations that can be deployed in new foam systems or incorporated as part of a clients’ transition away from PFAS. A few months ago Fomtec was able to announce the receipt of UL listings and FM approvals for our Enviro USP and Enviro ARK agents. 

Fomtecs’ “Enviro Programme” 

During the past decade our industry has gone through a transition from old C8 chemistry to C6. Fomtec finished this transition in 2014 and was one of the first companies to make a complete transition to C6.  

The new C6 versions of our UL/FM approved AFFF 3% S and ARC 3×3 S that have been a standard for high performance systems foam needed SFFF alternatives as PFAS restrictions start to be implemented. We began the development of these alternatives with the internal project name of the “Enviro Programme” as soon as our C6 project was completed. 

The performance of SFFF products is more reliant on a well expanded and longer draining foam. The lack of oleophobicity, combined with greater fuel and water type sensitivity strengthens the requirement for test data. This can only be achieved through the marriage of foam concentrate with equipment into a holistic solution. Over the past 6 years we have made sure our new SFFF products are tested with market leading equipment from a number of equipment manufacturers, not least the Viking Group. Our Enviro programme has (so far) resulted in almost 1000 fire tests in order to obtain the required test data to determine the operational limits of the equipment with our SFFF agents. 

So how can an end-user choose an alternative SFFF agent? 

Fire performance can be gauged by “approvals” against recognised international fire performance test standards. Whilst these approvals represent good repeatable test data it is important to be aware that testing is done with a specific fuel and a nozzle designed to give good expansion of the foam bubble. Mobile firefighting will always use far higher rates of application than are used in the approval fire performance tests, but numerous test programmes run by bodies such as NRL or NFPA Research have shown that with SFFF foam agent fuels, rates of application, expansion ratio and drainage time can lead to far greater variation in performance of SFFF foam agents in comparison to PFAS agents. 

Determination of whether the SFFF foam agent can be used with existing equipment, or if changes need to be made is also an important selection criteria. The SFFF foam agent needs to be moved from the storage tank to the proportioner, where it is mixed with water to become a foam solution. When the foam solution reaches the discharge device the energy imparted to the solution along with the air used to create the finished foam (bubbles) must be able to give a suitable expansion ratio and 25% drain time, that ideally matches the foam qualities tested to successfully extinguish and prevent reignition of the fire. 

When we look at fixed head foam systems it is critical to adopt a “holistic system” approach to the selection of alternative SFFF agent. Fixed head foam systems have to be “engineered” and require minimum available quantities of water and foam concentrate to achieve suppression. Established standards exist but these standards are based on our accumulated knowledge of working with PFAS based foam agents over the past 50 years. Work is ongoing within standard bodies to evaluate what changes are required to allow engineers to design equivalent systems based on SFFF agents. 

Following an NFPA standard for design of a foam system will reference the use of UL and/or FM systems which means that all the components in the system have been tested with the foam agent. Specifically flow ranges for the proportioner and the inlet pressures and flows from the discharge devices which match the foam qualities tested in the top side fire tests.  

It has been a misconception that by just using a collection of UL listed component that the final “system” will be UL Listed. That is not the case and with the SFFF foam agents this is even more true. The system requires that ALL components are tested and approved with the specific foam agent to be used. 

As a manufacturer we will only provide our recommendations in the consultation phase when we have independent third-party test data to a recognised and appropriate international standard.  

Enviro Programme Verification

From our experience with C6 “S” products, the way forward with our SFFF agents was to follow testing requirements of UL and FM. Both bodies require that top side fire tests are done with foam qualities that match the discharge devices, as well as dedicated test protocols for foam sprinklers.  

In May 2021 we received approvals for two fluorine free products, the Fomtec Enviro USP and the Fomtec Enviro ARK. Both are approved by UL and FM for use in sprinklers and topside devices. Fomtec Enviro ARK is the first fluorine free foam that is approved for use with sprinklers on polar solvent fuels.  

Apart from sprinklers, UL and FM approvals cover proportioning devices and other topside discharge devices. Foam qualities achieved in flow testing each of these discharge devices has been replicated in the topside fire testing carried out to UL 162 and/or FM 5130 test standards. 

Achieving these approvals allows Fomtec to provide our clients with recommendations supported by data that is based on testing and approval by independent third parties. 

Fomtec provides solutions based on data, rather than opinions 

SFFF agents are relatively new technology, and we can expect new innovations in the future. The current UL listings and FM approvals that Fomtec Enviro USP and ARK have achieved with the Viking hardware allows engineers to design and end users to install and operate fixed head foam systems with SFFF agents, with confidence that the recommendations from Fomtec are based on independently tested performance and data, rather than opinions. 

Do end-users in the region really need to be looking at transition? 

The likelihood is that foam manufacturers won’t be able to make these PFAS based products in the future. Also, with SFFF foam agents not being drop-in replacements the transition involves more than just the purchase of a new foam agent. 

Even without legislation supporting the transition to non PFAS based foam agents, three airports in the UAE already use SFFF agents in the ARFF vehicles and other facilities in the region will soon deploy SFFF for firefighting and bund protection. Additionally, a number of global companies have committed to removing all PFAS foams from all their operations around the world and this will involve their facilities in the region. 

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