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.
F. Carosio et al. Flame retardancy of polyester and polyester-cotton blends treated with caseins. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. Vol. 53, March 12, 2014, p. 3917. doi: 10.1021/ie404089t.
R. Ehrenberg. Flame quencher offers less toxic approach to fighting fire. Science News Online, May 13, 2013.
J. Raloff. Fighting flames with greener materials. Science News. Vol. 180, September 24, 2011, p. 17.