SCIENTISTS in Australia have developed a fireproof plastic that could be used to protect structural steel and electric cables.
Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Cooperative Research Centre for Polymers have developed polymers that turn into fireproof ceramic when exposed to heat.
Initially developed for use in fire-resistant electric cables, the team found that the material could also be used as passive fire protection for structural steel and help to keep fire localised.
Team leader Vince Dowling said: 'As the polymer melted and disintegrated in the heat, the ceramic formed a protective insulating layer, preventing short circuits and enabling the current to keep flowing.'
Polymers normally start to melt at between 100 and 200 deg C and completely disintegrate at 400 deg C. Ceramics are typically formed at temperatures of more than 700 deg C, rendering them virtually fireproof.
A spin-off company, Ceram Polymerik, has already received and despatched the first order for the material from Devonbased fire protection specialist Lorient Polyproducts.
It intends to use the material in several passive fire protection products but it could be used in a variety of applications, Mr Dowling claimed.
He said: 'The aim is to contain the movement of heat and smoke between floors and rooms by sealing penetrations, prolonging stability and to protect structural components.'