Milk protein a potential flame retardant

Dairy molecules can prevent fabrics from going up in blazes

Milk: It may not only do a body good but protect fabrics as well.

Researchers led by Jenny Alongi of Italy’s Politecnico di Torino dunked cotton, polyester and a polyester-cotton blend into a liquid formula of powdered milk proteins called caseins, which are key to making cheese. The researchers found that the phosphate-rich proteins extinguished fires set on the fabrics, slowing the spread of blazes by 40 to 70 percent.

Upon burning, caseins may release acids, such as phosphoric acid, that form a molecular firewall and keep the flames from fanning out, the authors say. They report their results in the March 12 Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

A casein-based flame retardant would be a safe alternative to current fire-proofing chemicals, which can give off toxic fumes, the authors say. But the milky fire extinguisher may have a delayed debut while researchers work on a version that doesn’t easily wash out of cloth or smell like rancid dairy.

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