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HomeAround The WorldSingapore NTU scientists invent transparent “fireproof” wood coating

Singapore NTU scientists invent transparent “fireproof” wood coating

Mass timber, which uses prefabricated solid wood panels for low- to mid-rise construction applications, is foreseeing demand across the globe in the construction industry. As they are prefabricated, the use of mass timber panels can bring significant cost savings for construction projects and reduce construction time. Mass timber is also less sensitive to temperature changes, making structures more energy efficient.But one of the biggest challenges for wood is its flammability. When untreated it can burn and combust easily. This is why modern construction standards require that wood be used only after treating it. The standard practice to protect the interior of wooden buildings from fires requires the use of fire-retardant panels or paint-like coatings. But this conceals the natural aesthetics.

Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have come up with a great substitute against these current practices. They have created an invisible coating that can make wood fireproof. The coating has been invented by a team led by Associate Professor Aravind Dasari.The new invisible coating developed by NTU allows for the natural beauty of timber to shine and yet can still provide a flame barrier when “activated” by fire. This fireproof coating is just 0.075 millimetres thick and is highly transparent, making it invisible to the naked eye.

Aravind Dasari, NTU Singapore associate professor, said: “Most timber or wooden panels only have a transparent coat that protects them from moisture, weather corrosion, termites or pests, and are not designed to withstand high heat. Thus, timber can still burn very quickly, especially if it is unprotected.”

When heated by a flame, a series of chemical reactions turn the coating into a char that expands to more than 30 times its original thickness. The char acts as fire insulation for the wood underneath, creating a “flame barrier”.

“In our coating, we used technology to lock certain compounds and interact with the resin. They will actively participate in the chemical reactions in a systematic manner when exposed to high heat, thus leading to the formation of char. This char was engineered to be extremely heat-resistant, insulating the wood underneath from the high heat, “ says Aravind Dasari, NTU Singapore associate professor.

Professor Louis Phee, NTU’s vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship says, this is an example of how fundamental research can be translated into commercial applications with high impact, given that the invisible coating enhances both safety and aesthetics in timber construction with few to no drawbacks.

NTU Singapore is working with companies to licence the product and test its effectiveness and longevity. Venturer Timberwork is actively exploring the usage of this innovative coating to protect their mass-engineered timber elements in one of their current projects.

‘Bolstering engineered timber’s resistance to fire is critical to expanding the uptake of this technology across more of the built environment,’ says Mr. Kevin Hill, Venturer’s Managing Director.

The innovation has a technology disclosure filed through NTUitive, NTU’s innovation and enterprise company, and the commercialization project was funded S$250,000 through the NTUitive Gap Fund.

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