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National Fire Research Laboratory: Research Development and Operations Project

Summary:

At present, there is no research facility in the world that allows scientists and engineers to conduct research on the response of real-scale structural systems to realistic fire and mechanical loading under controlled laboratory conditions.  The National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL), currently under construction and slated to be completed by the end of FY 2013, will serve these research needs as well as other fire research endeavors such as advanced firefighting technologies, engineered fire safety, material flammability reduction and wildland-urban interface fire research.  The unique facility will enable large-scale experiments on the performance of structural elements, subassemblies, and systems exposed to fires up to 20 MW and will contribute to the technical basis for performance-based design methodologies for structures exposed to fire.  This project seeks to: (1) develop a long-term research roadmap for determining fire resistance of structures in the NFRL that integrates modeling and performance-based design methodologies into the NFRL experimental research portfolio, (2) develop a comprehensive NFRL safety program, including safety requirements for the unique challenges posed by the combination of large-scale fire and structural testing, and (3) develop the business and operational strategies in support of the NFRL research agenda.

Description:

Objective: By 2016, to develop the research portfolio and standard operating procedures including standard test protocols, finalized safety program, and robust business and operational model for large-scale fire-structural experiments.

What is the new technical idea? Currently there is no research facility in the world that allows scientists and engineers to conduct research on the response of real-scale structural systems to a realistic fire and mechanical loading under controlled laboratory conditions.  Expansion of the NFRL, currently under construction (2013), when completed, will allow structures, ranging in size from small components to large systems up to 2 stories in height and 2 bays × 3 bays in plan, to be tested under fully-developed building fires up to 20 MW using natural gas, liquid hydrocarbons, wood cribs, or actual building contents.  Mechanical loading will be applied using configurable hydraulic actuators or fixed loads.  The new research capabilities will enable NFRL to explore innovative measurement techniques to (1) better characterize fire-structure interaction, (2) develop an experimental database on the performance of large-scale structural connections, components, sub-assemblies, and systems under realistic fire and other typical vertical/lateral loads, (3) validate physics-based computational models to predict fire resistance performance of structures, (4) enable performance-based approaches for fire resistance design of structures, and (5) foster innovations in design and construction.

What is the research plan? A workshop to develop an International R & D Roadmap for Fire Resistance of Structures, emphasizing a multi-year, multi-institution large-scale experimental program to support performance-based engineering and modeling/simulation by involving the international stakeholder community, will be conducted in the fall of 2013 to forge research partnerships in the area of structural performance in fire and to discuss the sharing of experimental resources to support research of mutual interest. The development of the NFRL research plan incorporating experimental work and associated model evaluation studies will be guided by the recommendations from the workshop.

The project will continue to develop safety best practices for NFRL. This task will include data gathering and review of current safe practices, lessons learned, and protocols employed by other domestic and international structural and fire testing laboratories. The best practices for NFRL will be developed and documented and will include safety operation requirements, training requirements, etc.

This project will develop the business and operational strategies in support of the NFRL research agenda including (1) the development of a staffing plan and business plan and (2) the identification and forging of strategic domestic and international partnerships to enable collaborative research.

The successful operation of the NFRL relies on uninterrupted service of several critical infrastructure systems. The operation, maintenance, and repair of these systems including the NFRL Emissions Control Systems are managed through this project.

Major Accomplishments:

Outcomes:

  • Completed and documented an assessment of domestic and international safety and operational best practices for testing of large-scale structures exposed to fire.
  • Completed a draft safety program, including safety and training requirements for NFRL.