Fighting fire with foam, the eco-friendly way | VTx


Two Virginia Tech researchers were awarded $ 1.2 million to develop an electronic molecular toolkit that uses machine learning and analytical techniques to support the development of environmentally friendly fire-fighting foam.

Funding was provided by the Strategic environmental research and development program, the environmental science and technology program of the Ministry of Defense.

Brian Lattimer, professor of mechanical engineering, is the principal investigator of the project. He is joined by his colleague in mechanical engineering, Rui Qiao, and Tim Long, director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Center for the fabrication and fabrication of sustainable macromolecular materials.

Replace a harmful chemical

The initiative for the project came from legislation related to ban on perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are often referred to as “eternal chemicals” because they are slow to break down when released into the environment. A growing body of evidence shows that PFAS can cause adverse health effects in humans and wildlife.

These chemicals are currently found in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) used by the Department of Defense (DOD) and airports to suppress liquid fuel fires resulting from accidental spills as well as vehicle and aircraft accidents, and should be stopped by the DOD in 2023. While this is a useful public health measure, the need for high performance fire suppression remains a critical issue for DOD.

AFFF extinguishes fires by covering the fuel surface with a foam blanket to prevent the release of fumes, Lattimer said. This behavior is unique in that the foam is able to extinguish fires quickly and prevent re-ignition of fuel. This allows firefighters to quickly put out the fire and then walk on the foam to rescue people.

According to Lattimer, there are no ecological foams available that work at the same level as the AFFF. To uncover potential solutions in a rapidly closing window of time, the group will use experiments and simulations at the molecular level to uncover what makes the current AFFF so effective. They will then deploy machine learning to create mathematical models that predict fuel transport through surfactant solutions at the molecular level and suggest new molecules believed to limit fuel transport.

Using this approach, they hope to help chemists accelerate the development of high-performance, environmentally friendly foams for use in DOD, airports and other high-risk liquid fuel storage facilities.

“Fire-fighting foams are not only used by DOD, but also at airports around the world,” Lattimer said. “In a situation such as a plane crash, passenger rescue time is measured in seconds. It is essential that environmentally friendly foams can extinguish fires as effectively as AFFF is to ensure the safety of people. people.”

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