Modifying timber to reduce fire risk

Friday 19 Feb 2021

 
In the wake of the last, disastrous fire season in Australia, materials are under close scrutiny. Clever options like FLAMEfixx use advanced technology to make timber safer in BAL zones and beyond. The Bushfire Royal Commission recently handed down its 1,000-page final report.

Alongside important recommendations regarding government action, better firefighting capacity and mitigation strategies, an entire chapter (19) is dedicated to land-use planning and building regulation. In this chapter, the report specifically recommends that “The Australian Building Codes Board, working with other bodies as appropriate, should... conduct an evaluation as to whether the National Construction Code should be amended to specifically include, as an objective of the code, making buildings more resilient to natural hazards.”

Basically, that means we need buildings that are less likely to burn. For the timber industry, that’s a key challenge when it comes to the Australian market. Many people wrongly assume timber is always a fire risk. Rather than argue the evidence of timber’s safety – because, as we’ve seen in much of 2020, evidence often fails when it goes up against beliefs – FLAMEfixx has turned the problem around and used clever research to deliver a treated pine range that is proven to be significantly more fire-resistant.

Finding the solution

FLAMEfixx was developed by Auckland-based Wood Modification Technologies. Managing Director Ron Moon had long envisioned an effective process that would lower fire risk in timber, helping builders in BAL-rated zones to get the best of both fire safety and the speed and cost savings of timber construction.

“Bushfires play a big role in the Australian market,” he says, “so we knew there was a huge market opportunity. The holy grail for us was a total solution that combined outdoor protection to H3 and meeting AS 3959 (Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas) at BAL-29 rating.”

As it turned out, the solution was an actual solution. The full product name, FLAMEfixx dFx®, spells it out, with the ‘d’ standing for durable wood preservative and ‘Fx’ for proprietary inorganic metal fire-retardant. Both are combined in a patented formula that is impregnated into sustainable, plantation-grown radiata pine using vacuum pressure.

“The market had been looking for something like this for about 50 years,” says Moon, “and around the world, no one had cracked it. It was complicated: the product formulation needed to be stable and able to be impregnated into timber, then achieve a process to fix the chemical into the timber and finally to meet the burn tests (combustion) Standard (AS 3837) for both peak and average heat release. We started our R&D period in 2014.”

It was not a perfectly straightforward process – “We spent the first three years working on a chemistry that in the end simply couldn’t deliver the outcomes,” says Moon. “But we really believed in what we were doing and those failures ultimately set us on the pathway to FLAMEfixx.

“There was definitely a spot of frustration and even despair in there, but we knew the idea itself was important, and every passing fire season emphasised the need,” he adds ruefully, listing some of the many technical, engineering and chemical challenges that had to be solved before the team could successfully deliver a commercial product.

For the full article and for further information, click here

Source: Wood Modification Technologies, Timber Trader News



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