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Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2014 Designing Greener Chemicals Award

The Solberg Company


RE-HEALINGTM Foam Concentrates–Effective Halogen-Free Firefighting

Innovation and Benefits: Fluorinated surfactants are critical components of firefighting foams, but they are persistent chemicals and have the potential for environmental impacts. In developing RE-HEALINGTM Foams (RF), the Solberg Company has replaced fluorinated surfactants in its firefighting foam concentrates with a blend of non-fluorinated surfactants and sugars. The new foam works well with far less environmental impact.

Summary of Technology: Firefighting foams suppress combustion by smothering burning fuels and cooling fires. For years, these foams have used long-chain fluorinated surfactants as the “active ingredient”. In 2006, EPA established a voluntary stewardship program to reduce uses of long-chained fluorosurfactants because they are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. As a result, foam formulators switched from long- to short-chain fluorosurfactants. However, almost 40 percent more fluorosurfactant is required to meet the Underwriter Laboratories (UL) 162 firefighting foam performance standard when using short-chain rather than long-chain fluorosurfactants. While less bioaccumulative and less toxic, short-chained fluorosurfactants are still persistent, and, given the greater amounts used, greater quantities of these short-chained fluorochemicals chemicals are expected to be released to the environment.

Rather than simply switching to the short-chain fluorosurfactant, the Solberg Company developed a line of halogen-free foam concentrates. After several years of research and testing on fires, Solberg developed products that are equal, and in many cases superior, to their fluorinated counterparts. Solberg’s foams have achieved full regulatory compliance with existing fire protection standards, while eliminating persistent chemicals. In particular, RE-HEALINGTM Foam (RF) is a very effective firefighting foam concentrate for flame knockdown, fire control, extinguishment, and burnback resistance. Control, extinguishing time, and burnback resistance are paramount to the safety of firefighters everywhere, and RF has excellent performance in each.

RE-HEALINGTM Foam concentrates are a blend of hydrocarbon surfactant(s), water, solvent, sugars, a preservative, and a corrosion inhibitor. Concentrates are formulated to be used as 1 percent, 3 percent, or 6 percent products to fight “Class B” hydrocarbon fuel fires. The presence of complex carbohydrates gives the foam significantly more capacity to absorb heat than fluorine-containing foam. This improves the extinguishing property of RF and adds to the burnback capacity. The renewable hydrocarbons used in RF concentrates are the same products used in the health care industry. The use of these blends results in a product that has very favorable hygiene and environmental properties (including 93 percent degradation in 28 days, and complete degradation by day 42). The RF concentrates are also easy to retrofit into existing foam systems as a replacement to existing fluorosurfactant foams.

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