The holistic approach with Fomtec

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John Ottesen, CEO and Founder at Fomtec, talks to IFSJ Editor Iain Hoey about the importance of tailored foam solutions for all applications

Over the last 12 months, in many articles and interviews that you’ve done you talk about the holistic approach. What do you actually mean by this, and can you elaborate?

 In the context of foam systems, the holistic approach means that all the products need to work together in harmony to achieve the goal we’re setting out to achieve, and that is putting fires out.

All the components of a system need to work together, and that needs to be proven by testing.

The holistic approach incorporates more than just hardware and software working together, it also needs to be appropriate for the application because not all applications are the same.

For example, if we consider the marine segment, with its challenges, such as the water quality, temperatures, and so on.

You have airports with totally different missions and very different fuels, so in the sense of a holistic approach, I also wanted to highlight the differences between applications.

So are you saying that we need different foams for different applications?

Yes, we have found that we need to develop products to meet the requirements of the various missions where foam is used.

We have products especially focused on airports, others for the marine segment, others for industrial applications, and so forth and so on.

They do have slightly different needs and slightly different conditions, and to get the very best for each application, sometimes you need a different product.

Surely as an end user, you would like one product that could do everything?

Yes, we all would want to have one universal product, but that is not the case in the real world, or at least this is what we have found.

To have the optimal performance for each mission application with one product is not possible, or sometimes it is not economically desirable.

When I look at the AFFF that Fomtec manufactures and supplies it is not one product but a range of products.

The Chemistry behind an AFFF must be very well known, so why is this?

Again, it was different formulations developed and tested to meet the requirements of the different missions and other requirements or to meet the fire performance set by different testing standards or authorities.

So, we have an extensive range of different AFFF´s and that has not changed as we develop and offer our SFFF’s.

These different missions and specialized requirements still exist, so our Enviro range of SFFF’s has evolved and will continue to evolve.

As an end user, how do I determine the right product for my mission?

A good place to start is to look at which approvals we have and if the approvals are appropriate for your application.

Each different application does have special approvals.

For example, for a marine application you can have a marine approval according to IMO 1312 which is for use on shipboard with sea water or alternatively, if you need an industrial product approved for use with sprinklers then the appropriate approvals would be the UL 162 or the FM 5130.

Are these approvals are linked to fire testing?

Yes, each approval is linked to a fire performance test, but these tests are NOT the same.

They all differ based on the application.

The ARFF mission differs from that of a shipboard mission, and these differences are reflected in the approval standard and, by extension, the fire performance tests associated with that standard.

We can talk about different test fuels, different water, different test nozzles, and different test procedures.

For example, the ARFF mission outside of the USA follows a test standard developed by ICAO and uses Jet A-1 as the test fuel, whereas the marine industry follows a standard developed by IMO and uses heptane as the test fuel (but you can also test with polar solvent fuels within the standard).

There can be great differences in how a product performs in one test compared to another.

Have these standards and associated fire tests changed for SFFF?

No they have not changed, but SFFF’s are treated differently to AFFF’s and AR-AFFF’s in UL 162 and FM 5130 for topside applications.

It was these differences that perhaps led to some people to make negative statements about the performance of SFFF’s.

What are these differences?

For topside applications, the application density is 50% greater than AFFF, and you are given 2 more minutes to achieve extinguishment.

Conversely, the burnback portion of the test has become more challenging due to the waiting period increasing from 9 minutes to 15 minutes.

It is important to remember that UL and FM did not invent these differences for SFFF because these differences have been in place for many years for non-film-forming foams.

So essentially the standards and the tests remain the same?

Exactly. That is why we believe that we need to develop and supply a range of SFFF foams to meet the different missions.

What missions do you currently have Enviro products for?

We have Enviro foam agents that cover all missions, and some are mission specific while some overlap and can, similar to our AFFF range, cover multiple missions.

Worthy of mention are:

Enviro USP – which is a high-performance and multi-mission foam for hydrocarbon fuel fires.

Enviro ARK – the first SFFF to receive FM approval for use on hydrocarbon fuel and polar solvent fuel fires with standard sprinklers.

Enviro AIR – a Newtonian product with ICAO B for the ARFF mission

Enviro 3 x 3 ULTRA – a multi approved high-risk industry 3 x 3 (which is also approved for marine use)

Enviro eMAX – an alcohol resistant multi-purpose high expansion foam approved according to APSAD T12

More recently, we expanded our IMO range of marine products to include

Enviro SEA – a Newtonian SFFF, available as a 1%, 3% and 6% concentrate.

Enviro SEA sounds like good news for the marine industry. Can you give us any information about what you are working on now?

The Enviro Program hit 2,500 tests in December last year, and we have already 12 weeks planned for 2024.

Some of this relates to the expansion of approvals but we will introduce more new products in 2024.

Our focus has been on introducing high-performance SFFF products for fixed systems, but now we are devoting more time and effort to the emergency response side of the foam business.

I don’t want to tempt fate by talking too much, but stay tuned.

When we last spoke, you hinted that the US Airports would also have some good news soon?

Yes, but the nice thing about the amount of testing we do is that we have an incredible amount of data, so when we see breakthroughs, we can be optimistic that these will lead to new commercial products.

I would like to come back to the subject of the need for mission-specific foam agents.

It is a key component of Fomtec’s business approach to develop the best-performing foam products for each specific mission and not to compromise performance.

Let me clarify this further by saying that when we develop a product, we are never looking for a “borderline” pass.

To qualify as a “mission specific” product, it needs to be a “star” performer for that mission – and hence why the Enviro Range of SFFF foams is evolving in the same way that our PFAS-containing foams did.

I’m glad you mentioned PFAS-containing foams because you recently announced that Fomtec would continue producing them. Why is this?

We fully support the move to the more environmentally responsible SFFF, but many end users are going to need time to plan and execute the change.

Within the EU, the proposed legislation relating to PFAS containing foams allows derogations of up to 10 years after force of entry (for the SEVESO companies), so we decided that we need to support these end users during this period so that the existing systems can be maintained in operational condition.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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