Making steel more fire-resistant
Fire-resistant protection is essential for structures made of light steel, such as industrial buildings, warehouses, houses, garages and containers. The standard solution is intumescent paint, which swells up when heated to form a protective layer for the metal.
The SteelProst project has used nanotechnology to develop a second-generation intumescent paint with enhanced fire resistance and mechanical properties, thus providing substantial advantages over existing coatings.
‘The SteelProst coating represents the state of the art of high performance intumescent formulations tailored to meet the unique challenges of the steel construction market,’ explains Véronique Dehan, Secretary General of European Convention for Constructional Steelwork (ECCS), the project coordinator. ‘It combines a series of nano-additives carefully selected with tin chemistry to improve performance and sustainability, and it is more environmentally friendly compared to most of the commercially available solutions.’
Over the last ten years, issues regarding the cost and protection quality of existing intumescent paints have resulted in steel structures losing 40% of the market to concrete structures. Because of their low resistance to scratching, the paint is typically applied on-site after erection, to avoid damage during transportation and installation. However, because at least three or four layers are required to achieve the protection required by European legislation, it takes at least three to four days to apply the paint. As a result, the application disrupts the construction process and adds significantly to its cost.
To improve the coating’s resistance to scratching, the SteelProst solution incorporates nanomaterials as an inorganic filler. This makes it significantly more durable than other intumescent paints, and correspondingly less likely to be damaged during transportation and installation, without reducing its fire-resistant properties. Its greater durability enables it to be often applied off-site. The result is that the coating reduces costs by 25% for on-site applications and 50% for off-site applications.
The SteelProst coating also has enhanced fireresistant properties. It provides 2.4 times the amount of fire resistance compared to other existing intumescent paints, in part because it begins to form a protective layer at much lower temperature. In addition, it has far lower smoke emission than other solutions.
The consortium will launch a demo project soon in order to put the coating on the market within the forthcoming months. The patent has been written and will be filed before the demo project starts. The coating will be commercialised first in Europe, then in the USA, Japan and elsewhere, and Ms Dehan expects it to have a significant impact in the market. ‘It is expected to gradually recover the 40% market share lost by the steel construction market during the last 10 years. Around 10% should be recovered in the first five years of commercialisation.’
In addition to Belgium, the consortium comprises members from Germany (Bersch & Fratscher GmbH), Italy (Alcea s.r.l.), Slovenia (Construction Cluster of Slovenia; Razpon D.O.O.), Spain (Asociacion de la Industria Navarra; Talleres Ruiz; Tecnologias Avanzadas Inspiralia; Acciona S.A.) and the UK (ITRI Ltd). None of the members had the capability to develop the solution alone, and a high level of cooperation was required.
Ms Dehan is also quick to acknowledge the contribution of EU funding. ‘EU funding was of paramount importance in order to achieve all the ambitious objectives initially planned in SteelProst. It supports trans-national research collaborations in this industrially relevant area (fire protection of steel structures), support for researcher mobility, and trans-national access to research infrastructures from other partners involved in the project.’
Ms Dehan is very proud of the project’s achievements. ‘Many people told us that our project was too ambitious, that we would never achieve the results we had committed to. But the strong coherence of the partners, the excellent team spirit, and the seriousness and genius of our RTD partners have been influential in the success of this project. It is extremely important to choose the right partners from the beginning of the project; for a coordinator, to feel a total confidence and reliability in the project partners is a major factor. Communicating often and multiplying the occasions to speak to each other is a priority. Any obstacle to the total cohesion of the team must be tackled immediately.’