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Scientists Milk Dairy to Repel Flames

Monday, April 28, 2014

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Italian scientists have churned up a recipe for non-toxic flame retardants using a byproduct of milk.

Researchers at the Polytechnic University in Turin, Italy, coated cotton, polyester and polyester-cotton blend fabrics with a casein and water concoction to test thermal stability and flame retardancy.

They recently reported their findings in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

cheese making
Wikimedia Commons

The scientists say fabrics coated in casein self-extinguish or burn slower than those left untreated. Casein is a main component of cheese.

Casein, a byproduct of milk, contains phosphate groups that quickly turn to char when they catch fire, according to Popular Science.

Burn Tests

When the fabrics were dry, the researchers set them on fire, reports on the research relate.

Flames on the cotton treated with the casein solution self-extinguished after consuming just 14 percent of the fabric. Only 23 percent of the casein-dipped polyester burned before it self-extinguished.

In the instance of polyester-cotton blends, the casein mixture slowed the burning rate but was not able to stop the fire, reports relate. The fire took 60 percent longer to consume the treated blend than an untreated blend.

In each case, the flames were “proven to be strongly affected by the caseins,” according to the scientists.

Challenges Ahead

As one might expect, a challenge the team faces is making sure the coating doesn’t wash off the fabrics when they are cleaned.

scientist and flames
(Left) U.S. Department of Labor / (Right) Wikimedia Commons

Flame-retardant research is a hot area as scientists work to develop less-toxic materials to combat flames.

Also, the team is trying to determine how to keep the casein-laced fabric from smelling of rotten diary.

Other Research

Last year, some of the same Italian researchers reported another alternative to potentially harmful flame-retardant chemicals now in widespread use.

They coated fabrics using DNA extracted from the sperm of herring. In that research, they found that untreated specimens were completely burned within 80 seconds, but the DNA-treated cotton extinguished its flame in about two seconds.

Not only that, but after the flame went out, it was impossible to ignite the specimen again, the researchers found.

Testing is ongoing, they reported.

   

Tagged categories: Coatings technology; Fire; Fire-resistive coatings; Flame-retardant coatings; Intumescent; Research

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