Finally getting rid of brominated flame retardants? The Finnish innovation is close to a commercial breakthrough

The new, “green” flame retardants innovated in Åbo Akademi University have sparked wide international interest. Based on this new innovation, Kiilto is developing flame retarding products for wood-based materials.

Particularly in Europe, there is a widespread interest in non-toxic flame retardants, tells Research, Development and Innovation Director Raija Polvinen from Kiilto.

“The new innovation by the research group, led by Professor Carl-Erik Wilen from Åbo Akademi University, has been widely reported and we have been busy in answering the phone”, smiles Polvinen.

Kiilto has about twenty customer projects going on, in which flame retardants are being tested. According to Polvinen, the commercialisation of the projects is “highly probable”.

The first finished products will be launched in the near future.

“Our first commercialised applications are combinations of co-developed substances that have already been registered”, describes Polvinen.

The flame retardants developed by the Wilén’s research group won the Innovation Award 2016 by The Chemical Industry Federation of Finland, and Kiilto is still waiting their Reach registration from the European Chemicals Agency.

“After the registration process, getting the product on the market may well take a year or so”, estimates RDI Director.

Huge market potential

In tests these new generation halogen-free flame retardants developed by Åbo Akademi University’s Polymer Technology department have proven to inhibit flames and spreading of fire very effectively.

Sulfenamides based on sulphur and nitrogen bond inhibits the chemical processes that maintain the burning process. Sulfenamides are very effective even in very small quantities: the required quantity is less than 1 % of the weight of the material to be protected.

More importantly, it is possible that, in the future, these environmentally friendly substances will replace traditional, toxic bromine, whose harmful effects are not even fully known.

Until now, there have not been effective alternatives for brominated flame retardants. Therefore we have brominated flame retardants everywhere in our environment: in furniture, clothes, construction insulation and decoration materials.

So this new innovation from Turku may well rewrite the entire chemistry of flame retardants. And that’s what the members of the research team Carl-Erik Wilén, Teija TirriMelanie Aubertand Weronika Pawalec are hoping for.

In their opinion, sulfenamides could have a huge market potential in many industries.

“Sulfenamides can be combined, for example, with plastic already at the production. This enables development of flame proof plastic or flame retardant paint.They can also be used as a coating, and they can be impregnated in the material”, describes Professor Wilén.

The commercialisation of the new innovation has been delayed by high inital costs. Reach registration costs up to several thousands of euros, and different types of polymers have several variations that have to be registered individually.“Our partners need big customers in order to make profitable business. We will do everything to move thing in the right direction.”

The small flame -test shows well the difference in fire behaviour: one of the papers is protected with flame retardant and the other isn’t. Paper protected with flame retardant becomes charred, but does not inflame.

This piece of news was published in the newsletter of Kemia-magazine on 24 April 2017.