Foam insulation is widely used in modern buildings to improve energy efficiency. Foam insulation helps to reduce energy consumption as well as making buildings and homes more energy efficient. This is important given that energy consumption in buildings is responsible for some 40% CO2 emissions.
Building insulation foams are flammable and their application and use in buildings is strictly controlled through regulations and flammability requirements. Such flammability requirements ensure that the insulation systems have sufficient flame retardancy to be used safely.
Brominated flame retardants added to insulation foams in precise quantities enhance the flame retardancy of the foams, helping to inhibit ignition or slow down the process of combustion.
In the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic rise in the amount and variety of electrical and electronic equipment in the home, workplace and in public spaces. In Europe for instance, the number of electronic appliances units traded grew by 13% between 2014 and 2017.
The proliferation of devices has been matched by a step change in their design (size, weight, materials) and production. TV screens are now as thin as plate glass with laptops and notepad devices even lighter.
Plastics are the dominant material used in the manufacture of electrical and electronic devices due to their versatility, diversity, mouldability and lightweight nature. Because of the high volume of plastics present, such equipment presents a fire risk. It is vital, to prevent fire and for human safety, that appliances and devices are resistant to ignition from the inside and can resist ignition from external sources.
Brominated flame-retardants provide the necessary flame retardancy to achieve both of these requirements. They can either be added to polymer materials during manufacture or can be reacted with materials such as epoxy used in the manufacture of printed circuit boards.
Modern homes contain a wide variety of materials used in different products and surface finishes. The vast majority of these are now synthetic materials – fibres, foams and plastics. The versatility of these materials has enabled manufacturers to provide an increasingly diverse and practical range of products for homeowners.
While the extensive use of synthetic fibres brings advantages, the combination of some of these materials also creates challenges in terms of fire safety. Most developed economies have a range of fire safety regulations, codes and standards which seek to make furnishings and textiles safe from accidental fires caused by small ignition sources. These codes and standards do not mandate use of particular flame retardant technologies or indeed that any flame retardants are applied. Rather they require a flammability requirement to be met.
Brominated flame retardants are used either on their own or with a synergist (antimony trioxide) which reduced the overall amount of flame retardant needed. They are used in filling foams for soft furnishings and back coatings.
Brominated flame-retardants ensure that the innovative materials used in trains, ships and road vehicles can be used safely and meet strict international fire safety standards.
Passenger aircraft represent a particular challenge for fire safety given the confined space. Aircraft carry a large amount of fuel and the cabin contains plastics, polymers and composites. As a result, stringent flame retardancy requirements are set in relevant aerospace standards established internationally. Brominated flame-retardants make an important contribution to enabling aircraft components and fittings meet these stringent fire safety requirements. Similarly, in trains and aircrafts where, seat covers and fillings, as well as vertical and horizontal panelling all need to be fire safe. Finally, materials used in cars are subject to a huge amount of daily thermal stress, which makes their use practically inconceivable without the application of flame-retardants including brominated flame-retardants.