A world first in fire-fighting

Australia plans to tighten regulations banning the use of harmful fluorine-based agents in fire-suppression systems. Enter Eclipse, the world’s first fluorine-free foam for mobile fire suppression.

Usually when fighting a fire, the first thought is how to put it out as quickly as possible to avoid loss of human life and limit the damage to equipment and buildings. But have you ever thought about what’s in the foam used to extinguish a fire? Or what happens once this foam soaks into the ground around the scene of the fire?

In 2013 Sandvik Fire Suppression, headquartered in Australia, set out to develop a new foam for mobile fire suppression. The goal was to come up with a firefighting product that would have less of an impact on the environment than anything else on the market. To do this, Sandvik wanted to create a fluorine-free product that would not cause long-term damage to the environment.

The result is Sandvik Eclipse, a world first, which has numerous benefits for customers who use mobile equipment in surface and underground mining, construction, forestry, waste management, materials and freight handling and locomotives.

Sandvik Eclipse extinguishes fires faster than old-technology fire-suppression solutions, and it has better post-fire protection to ensure that the fire cannot be reignited. Firefighters will also avoid inhaling fluorine, which can cause serious health concerns.

About Sandvik Eclipse

Sandvik launched Eclipse in July 2014. Developed and produced in Australia, it is the first fluorine-free fire-suppressant foam of its kind in the world. It is suitable for mobile plants and equipment used in surface and underground mining, construction, forestry, waste management, materials and freight handling and locomotives. It can be used in all new and existing Sandvik-compliant fire-suppression systems. It has AS5062 2006 certification from the Australian regulatory authorities. Eclipse is perfect for warm weather climates and currently sold in Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America.

“It’s a win-win situation,” says Michael Sargaison, sales manager for Sandvik Fire Suppression, who managed the Eclipse project. “Our customers will better protect their staff, their facility and their production from the risk of fire. There’s another bonus for cost-conscious customers. It’s roughly the same price as other foam systems but will cost companies less in clean-up operations due to the lower environmental impact.”

Making history
Most firefighting foams contain fluorinated compounds that can pose a threat to human health and the environment when released into the air or soil. Often these fluorine-based substances accumulate in waterways and underground aquifers, such as Australia’s Great Artesian Basin, polluting the water and interfering with the local plant and animal life. Over time, the pollution builds up to toxic levels, making many of these marine habitats unusable.

“We wanted to seek an alternative product that would offer superior protection for human health and our customers’ production, reducing these chronic health and environmental risks,” Sargaison says.

Sandvik Eclipse was developed and launched in Australia, a country with some of the toughest environmental regulations in the world.

“Australia was a logical choice for the launch as it leads the world in the development of fluorine-free foam fire-suppression agents,” Sargaison says. “Our regulatory framework demands that all fluorinated foams must be restricted from release into the environment, lest they add further to the current level of contamination.

“The one limitation of the Eclipse is that it has suboptimal performance in temperatures below zero, thus limiting the range of countries in which it can be sold. Nevertheless, R&D continues working to improve and expand its range.”

Planetary protection
No sooner was Eclipse launched than many major Australian mining houses and contractors made it the new standard for foam fire suppression at their facilities and on their vehicles.

Sargaison’s team intensively researched fluorine-free agents that would minimize environmental impact and meet the Sandvik ‘Zero Harm’ commitment.

“We shortlisted several potential candidates during this gruelling process and then conducted live fire testing at the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Live Fire Campus in Brisbane,” Sargaison says. “This was a good place to test it as they, like most public sector organisations in Australia, don’t allow fluorinated foam fire-suppression agents at their facilities.”

After the initial testing at Brisbane’s Whyte Island facility, and internally to ensure the new solution would be compatible with other Sandvik systems, one agent was chosen. This agent was then tested for compliance with the Australian Standard 5062-2006, which regulates mobile plant fire-suppression systems across the country. It passed the test and was awarded a place on the ActivFire listing scheme for fire-protection equipment.

Uptake Down Under
The product quickly made headlines as the world’s first fluorine-free fire-suppression foam for mobile equipment. It can be used on all fires for mobile plants and equipment and can be safely discharged into soil. Unlike other fluorine-based foams that can remain trapped in soil or water for up to a thousand years, Sandvik Eclipse foam completely degrades within 60 days, leaving no contaminants or harmful residues behind.

“The Eclipse system will appeal to any customer who wants the most effective, most environmentally sustainable fire suppression for their mobile plant,” Sargaison says. “The uptake in Australia has been rapid, as corporate Australian business places a high emphasis on environmentally sustainable practice that has a minimum impact on our fragile ecosystems.”

All Sandvik-compliant fire-suppression systems that are serviced by Sandvik will be converted to Eclipse. Sandvik can then recommission them as fluorine-free systems and provide all the required documentation.

“This will become the new standard for mobile fire suppression,” Sargaison says. “The new government policies on the use and disposal of fluorinated foams will be a major driver of this new technology.”