With some of the largest oil, gas and petrochemical complexes, multiple power stations powered by hydrocarbon fuels, and some of the busiest airports in the world, the Middle East Region is also one of the largest users of firefighting foam agents. For more than 50 years the region has purchased hundreds of thousands of litres of PFAS-based foam agents such as AFFF, FFFPs and their alcohol-resistant versions.
Now the concerns of the environmental impact of the group of chemicals known as ‘PFAS’ is leading to legislation in the US, Europe and Australia aimed at controlling and limiting the further dispersion of these chemicals into the air, land or water. Whilst it would be speculation to say that the countries in the region will follow legislation in place or pending from the US or the EU it should be remembered that the largest manufacturers of firefighting foam agents are based in the US and EU. If the legislation restricts the manufacture and supply of the fluoro-based chemicals to the foam agent manufacturers then these products would no longer be available for end users in this region.
The good news for the region is that R&D efforts by many foam-agent manufacturers, even those who publicly stated not so long ago that ‘fluorine free foams just don’t work’ has seen a growing number of synthetic fluorine free foams (SFFF) being launched and sold. Quite rightly, a lot of focus has been on the differences in performance and operational challenges of deploying these new SFFF agents in the emergency-response mission. For many industries that utilise and store Class B, and to a lesser extent Class A, fuels fixed-head foam systems are the primary defence against fire. These systems share in common the fact that they have a finite availability of foam concentrate and once this has been used up the system will just be flowing water!
The desire from all existing foam users is to have a ‘drop-in’ replacement. Notwithstanding the cleaning and decontamination issues with removing the PFAS foam concentrate from the existing system, the wish is that once the old foam is removed that they can just fill the tank with a new SFFF agent, and that the system will provide them with the same level of protection. As foam manufacturers we already know that SFFF agents don’t perform the same as the PFAS-based agents, so Fomtec embarked on our ‘Enviro Programme’ with the goal of developing high-performance SFFF agents and foam hardware combinations that can be deployed in new foam systems or incorporated as part of a client’s transition away from PFAS foam use. A few months ago Fomtec was able to announce the receipt of UL listings and FM approvals for our Enviro USP and Enviro ARK agents.
SFFF agents already in the region
Even without legislation supporting the transition to non-PFAS-based foam agents three airports in the UAE already use SFFF agents in their ARFF vehicles, and we are aware that other facilities in the region will soon deploy SFFF for firefighting and bund protection. Additionally a number of global companies have committed to removing all PFAS foams from all their operations around the world and this will involve their facilities in the region.
The ‘Enviro Programme’
During the past decade our industry has already gone through a transition from old C8 chemistry to C6. Fomtec finished this transition in 2014 and was one of the first companies to make a complete transition to C6. The transition to C6 was a big project that required hundreds of fire tests to be conducted in order to document and reapprove all our products.
The fairly new C6 versions of our UL/FM approved AFFF 3% S and ARC 3×3 S that have been a standard for high-performance systems needed SFFF alternatives as PFAS restrictions are being implemented. We began the development of these alternatives with the internal project name of the ‘Enviro Programme’ as soon as our C6 project was completed.
It is an undisputed fact that the performance of SFFF products are more reliant on a well expanded and longer draining foam. The lack of oleophobicity, combined with greater fuel and water-type sensitivity strengthens the requirement for test data. This can only be achieved through the marriage of foam concentrate with equipment into a holistic solution. Over the past six years we have been busy making sure our new SFFF products are tested with market-leading equipment from a number of equipment manufacturers, not least the Viking Group. Our Enviro programme has (so far) resulted in almost 1,000 fire tests in order to obtain the required test data to determine the operational limits of the equipment with our SFFF agents.
So how can we determine if an alternative SFFF agent is the right one to use?
Fire performance can be gauged by ‘approvals’ against recognised international fire-performance test standards such as UL 162, FM 5130, EN 1568, ICAO, IMO etc., and whilst these approvals represent good repeatable test data it is important to be aware that testing is done with a specific fuel and a nozzle designed to give good expansion of the foam bubble. Mobile firefighting will always use far higher rates of application than are used in the approval fire-performance tests, but numerous test programmes run by bodies such as NRL or NFPA Research for example have shown that with SFFF foam agents fuels, rates of application, expansion ratio and drainage time can lead to far greater variation in performance of SFFF foam agents in comparison to PFAS-based foam agents.
Determination of whether the SFFF foam agent can be used with existing equipment, or if changes need to be made, is also an important selection criteria. The SFFF foam agent needs to be moved from the storage tank to the proportioner, where it is mixed with water, to become a foam solution. When the foam solution reaches the discharge device the energy imparted to the solution along with the air used to create the finished foam (bubbles) must be able to give a suitable expansion ratio and 25% drain time, which ideally matches the foam qualities tested to successfully extinguish and prevent reignition of the fire.
When we turn to fixed-head foam systems it is even more critical to adopt a ‘holistic system’ approach to the selection of alternative SFFF agents. Fixed-head foam systems have to be ‘engineered’ and require minimum available quantities of water and foam concentrate to achieve suppression. Established standards such as various NFPA standards exist, but what is evident today is that, for the most part, these standards are based on our accumulated knowledge of working with PFAS-based foam agents over the past 50 years. Work is ongoing within NFPA and other standards bodies to evaluate what changes are required to allow engineers to design equivalent systems based on SFFF agents.
Following an NFPA standard for design of a foam system will reference use of UL and/or FM systems, which means that all the components in the system have been tested with the foam agent. Specifically this will include flow ranges for the proportioner and the inlet pressures and flows from the discharge devices which match the foam qualities tested in the topside fire tests.
It has been a misconception that by just using a collection of UL listed components that the final ‘system’ will be UL listed. That is not the case and with the SFFF foam agents this is even more true and the system requires that all components are tested and approved with the specific foam agent to be used.
As a manufacturer we will only provide our recommendations in the consultation phase when we have independent third-party test data to a recognised and appropriate international standard. Fomtec’s position is that recommendations without supporting data are just opinions!
Proving the Enviro Programme
Fomtec, from our experience with the C6 ‘S’ products, determined that the way forward with our SFFF agents was to follow the testing requirements of UL and FM. Both approval bodies require that topside fire tests are done with foam qualities that match the discharge devices, as well as having dedicated test protocols for foam sprinklers.
In May, Fomtec was able to announce approvals for two new fluorine-free products: the Fomtec Enviro USP and the Fomtec Enviro ARK. Both products are approved by UL and FM for use in sprinklers and topside devices. Fomtec Enviro ARK is a breakthrough product as it is the first fluorine-free foam that is approved for use with sprinklers on polar solvent fuels. It is tested and approved by FM at 3% concentration with a variety of non-aspirating sprinkler heads from Viking Corporation.
Apart from the sprinklers, the UL and FM approvals cover proportioning devices and other topside discharge devices such as foam makers, foam chambers and monitors. Foam qualities achieved in flow testing each of these discharge devices has been replicated in the topside fire testing carried out to UL 162 and/or FM 5130 test standards.
Achieving these approvals allows Fomtec to provide our clients with recommendations supported by data that is based on testing and approval by independent third parties.
SFFF agents are still relatively new technology and inevitably we can expect new innovations in the future. The current UL listings and FM approvals that Fomtec Enviro USP and ARK have achieved with the Viking hardware allow engineers to design, and end users to install and operate, fixed-head foam systems with SFFF agents with confidence that the recommendations from Fomtec are based on independently tested performance and data.
When should you start the transition process?
The answer is now! The clock is ticking on the availability of PFAS-based foam agents, and it is unlikely that the transition to an SFFF foam agent will be a ‘drop-in’ replacement.
For more information, go to www.fomtec.com