Gram for gram, novel carbon nanofiber-filled coatings devised by researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Texas A&M University outperformed conventional flame retardants used in the polyurethane foam of upholstered furniture and mattresses by at least 160 percent and perhaps by as much as 1,130 percent.
The impressive test results, reported in the journal Polymer,* suggest that significant fire-safety advantages can be gained by coating polyurethane foam (PUF) with a club-sandwich-like arrangement of thin layers containing carbon nanofibers and polymers. The upshot, says NIST researcher Rick Davis, is that the experimental coating seems to create the equivalent of a "fire-resistant armor" on the porous foam.
Ignition of soft furnishings account for about 5 percent of residential fires, and the consequences are disproportionately high. These fires are responsible for a third of fire-caused deaths of civilians and 11 percent of property losses due to fires in homes.
The flammability of mattresses is regulated by federal law. A complementary rule to regulate the flammability of upholstered furniture has been proposed recently.
Several organizations, however, have challenged the health and safety of some flame retardants designed to protect against soft furnishing fires. And, a bill pending in California would ban the use of certain halogenated flame retardants in that state.
Today, recipes for making PUFs result in foams in which fire retardants are embedded in the interior. In contrast, the experimental technology uses the carbon nanofiber fire retardant as a coating that covers all the nooks and crannies on the sponge-like PUF surface. The new approach, says Davis, should be attractive to PUF manufacturers because the surface treatment has the potential to deliver a low flammability PUF without major change to the foam manufacturing process, thus saving time and money.
|Contact: Mark Bello|
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)