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This project will conduct research to support the use of lightweight (wood, plastics, and composites)-engineered fire safe products (L-EFSP) with long fire service life in applications such as building and transportation structural components and contents.  This will be achieved by developing and using testing, characterization, and computational tools to accelerate the development of innovative compliance enabling technologies (CET) and using CET to produce L-EFSP.  Experts recommend research to guide development of L-EFSP and to improve the ignition resistance of external products buildings and other structures within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) are a high priority.  For this reason, this project will primarily conduct research that reduces the ember and open flame resistance of L-EFSP used in WUI structures.  


epoxy with an intumescent fire retardant

To develop the measurement science that enables the development and use of lightweight engineered fire safe products used to harden buildings and other structures within the WUI.

What is the new technical idea?

The new technical idea is to conduct research enabling rapid development and deployment of compliance enabling technologies for lightweight engineered fire safe products used to harden buildings and other structures within the WUI. 

A February 2018 NIST roadmap[1] provides recommendations to the fire community for conducting research to reduce the fire hazards of materials and products in the future.  In April of 2018, a team of NIST fire researchers provided the Fire Research Division with recommendations for fire and materials research to be conducted at NIST.[2]  Based on these recommendations, the applications of highest priority for fire and materials research are as follows.

  1. Residential Upholstered Furniture (RUF) – low fire hazard residential upholstered furniture without the use of conventional fire retardants (FR)
  2. External Fire Exposure – Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Buildings – high ember and flaming ignition resistant products used in the construction of homes and communities in the WUI
  3. Lightweight Construction – fire resistant products used in the construction of residential and commercial buildings
  4. Transportation – low fire hazard products used in the construction of the personal and mass transportation vehicle and its contents

Common to these high priority applications and most of the 14 lower priority applications in the roadmap is the use of lightweight (wood-, polymer-, and composites-based) products, which are critical to the performance in the end-use application, but also frequently contain an inherit fire hazard.  By conducting research that enables the use of lightweight engineered fire safe products (L-EFSP), this project will impact fire losses across multiple applications.  However, to increase the probability that this research provides measurement science that is appropriate (solves a real problem and is commercially viable) and timely, this project will target a single application.

This project will conduct research to harden the lightweight products used in WUI homes and communities.  Hardening homes and communities within the WUI is the 2nd highest priority for fire and materials research.1  The products used in the construction of the homes and surrounding structures in the WUI that are at greatest risk for being ignited, sustaining a fire, causing fire spread and growth, and generating new ignition sources (i.e., embers) are lightweight (composites, polymers and wood).   In strong collaboration with the WUI research in the Fire Research Division at NIST, this project will develop and use testing and computational tools to identify, evaluate and develop compliance enabling technologies in the support of L-EFSP used in the construction of WUI homes and communities.  Consistent with this FRD WUI research, this project will initially conduct research to increase the ember ignition resistance of wood used on the construction of fences and decking.[3]

What is the research plan?
The primary focus of this project is to develop bench-scale and computational tools and to use these tools to evaluate and develop L-EFSP.  This project will primarily target WUI applications (Task 1. WUI) while concurrently developing a research strategy and implementation plan for conducting L-EFSP research in other applications (Task 2. New L-EFSP Applications).


Task 1. WUI: This research will provide the tools and guidance necessary to increase the ember resistance of wood used in decks and fences within WUI communities.  This will be achieved by developing, for WUI, a materials analysis and database workflow, fire performing testing tools, and a smoldering computational tool, and using these to evaluate the characteristics, such as ember ignition resistance, fire service life, and ease of application, of commercial, commercial-modified, and new chemistry treatments on wood.  This task is a combination of three separate, but fully integrated activities: 1) workflow and modeling, 2) testing tools, and 3) developing EFSP technologies.

The WUI materials analysis and database workflow, will deliver a suite of analytical tools (e.g.; micro-combustion calorimeter and thermogravimetric analyzer) that autopopulates a database (also being developed in this project) with material properties obtained from fire-resistant treated wood and the treatments themselves (e.g.; stains and paints).  The database will support (i.e.; data formatting, processing, and retrieval) data analysis and computational modeling.  The smoldering computational model will predict ember ignition behavior of wood (with and without treatments).  The model will use material inputs from the database and will be validated against ember ignition research being conducted in the WUI group and by external collaborators.  The new bench-scale tools being developed, such as a miniature gasification device, will provide materials properties for the database and will validate aspects of the smoldering model.  All this will be executed to support the main purpose of this task: to increase the ember ignition resistance of fences and decks by evaluating and improving fire-resistant treatments for wood.  The initial focus in commercial treatment.  However, as we begin to understand the mechanism of ember ignition, alternative solutions (e.g.; adding modifiers to commercial products or evaluating innovative formulations) will be developed and evaluated. 

Task 2. New L-EFSP Applications:  This task will deliver strategic and implementation plans for conducting lightweight-engineered fire safe products (L-EFSP) research in applications outside of WUI.  This will be achieved by engaging experts and stakeholders (internal and external), hosting/participating in application-specific meetings, and publishing strategic and implementation planning documents.  L-EFSP are broadly used in a wide range of applications, such as wood in multi-story timber structures, composites walls in modular buildings, and composites used to replace rebar in concrete infrastructure.  Based on recommendations in the roadmap, from the FRD team, and conversations with subject matter experts, this project will likely first develop plans for composite fire research in buildings and infrastructure, and wood fire research in multi-story timber structures.  

[1] Davis, R. D., et al. (2018). NIST Special Publication 1220 Workshop Report: Research Roadmap for Reducing the Fire Hazard of Materials in the Future. National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publications. Gaithersburg, MD.      

[2] NIST internal document

Created March 11, 2016, Updated October 22, 2019