Industry Expert: The reinvention of firefighting foam

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John-Olav Ottesen, Managing Director and Founder of Dafo Fomtec AB, spoke to IFSJ about the ban on forever chemicals, data vs opinion, and the future of firefighting foam

There is currently a proposal to ban ‘forever chemical’ (PFAS) in firefighting foam across the EU. Why has this happened and what impact will it have?

This is the culmination of a long process in EU and legislators want to eliminate the use of PFAS, plain and simple. You use the term forever chemicals and PFAS molecules does not biodegrade in the environment and that is the main concern.

The transition to SFFF requires a holistic approach by end users – they must understand that this transition is not just about changing the concentrate. There is a wish for drop-in replacements among end users, but this is seldom achievable as the transition will often require, new storage tanks, new or recalibrated proportioning systems and the discharge device must be able to generate foam within the performance criteria of the individual foam concentrates. In many cases the application density as well as the operational tactics must be changed.

The finished foam fighting the fire is a product of foam concentrate as a part of a system, with tested and approved proportioning, and a foam quality generated by the discharge device that matches foam qualities proven by testing.

Why, when it comes to foam, is data more important than opinion?

It has always been the case that data is vital to enable correct design. With fluorinated foam, there was a higher degree of safety margin, they were simply more forgiving when it comes to issues like varying fuels and equipment. This is not the case with SFFF just now. We are still in the infancy with these products, so to base your fire protection on opinions can be disastrous, even fatal. We need to keep on gathering data and define the limitations of these products and base our fire protection on data collected through rigorous testing.

There has been a huge evolvement in performance of SFFF over the past 10 years, but as we reinvent foam, we understand that many old truths must be reconfirmed. We see that SFFF products are more fuel sensitive, and they must be used within the limitations that is defined by real test data and approvals. To use the words of the NFPA report on SFFF, the products must be deployed strictly within the listed parameter.

How have foam and fire suppression systems and solutions changed and evolved in recent years?

 Foam systems have been more or less the same during my 30 years in the industry. Compressed air foam systems have been introduced during this period and concentrates and equipment have evolved, but fundamentally they have not changed. With the move to SFFF, we see perhaps a need for more application specific approach. In some cases we will need higher application densities and change of discharge devices to accommodate for the use of SFFF foam, where a foam blanket plays a more vital role than with fluorinated foam.

With the inevitable move away from PFAS, and towards fluorine free foam, what are the main challenges that are a result of this transition and how can these be overcome?

First of all, the need for test data when designing systems. This puts a lot of responsibility on foam manufacturers but also on standards developers, designers, and end users. There is no way around it, we just need to keep on gathering data. The standards must adopt new insight and implement this going forwards. Designers and users must embrace the holistic approach and require real data.

Secondly, I would say that the cleaning of systems and handling of old concentrate is a real challenge, as we still do not know enough about the best way of doing this. The test methods for PFAS content are still being developed and refined, and the industry and laboratories are taking big steps to enable better methods. Methods for cleaning are available but the efficacy not yet 100% clear. The handling of old PFAS foam is also a challenge as questions are raised if high temperature incineration is effective enough. This is being discussed among regulators and industry right now.

What does the future hold for firefighting foam?

 For as long as there are flammable liquids in use, foam will play a central role in fire protection. We see a constant development towards ever more effective PFAS free foams, and this will carry on going forwards. I see this as a very exciting and innovative part of the industry and the next decade is going to be both challenging and interesting.

What are Fomtec’s core values and how do these impact its products and its customers?

Our core values are: Performance, Trust and Sustainability. In fire protection, Performance is driving us to keep on innovating and testing. Trust is essential for Fomtec and our products, and you build trust through all your interactions with partners and clients, and most of all trust in our products based on the data that we provide.

Sustainability for Fomtec starts with the way we conduct our own business and strive to reduce our environmental footprint. We have no emissions of process water, we recycle our waste and we develop our products based on environmentally responsible chemistry. This will at the end bring high performance and future proof products to our clients.

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