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Research is the key to success

Almost 20 years ago I was employed as a research scientist at ‘SP Fire Technology’, a department at the Swedish governmental owned research Institute SP. In 2010 we merged with the Norwegian/SINTEF fire laboratory to become ‘SP Fire Research’ and in 2016, we joined forces with the SP mechanical research lab to become ‘SP Safety’.

At about the same time, the three institutes SP, Innventia and Swedish ICT merged to become one single large national institute, ‘RISE Research Institutes of Sweden’. When I started as a scientist at SP, there were approximately 50 people in the department and 600 people at the institute. Today I am managing the expanding Safety department employing about 200 people within RISE, which employs around 2300 people.

The Fire division of the Safety department employs 120 people in Sweden and our Norwegian subsidiary ‘RISE Fire Research AS’, adds another 30 people to the common fire competence of RISE. I think we are the largest fire research community in Europe and together with all competences within RISE, we can resolve a large amount of the fire safety challenges that meet our developing society. This was the main objective for creating a large single national entity; to collect expertise that could tackle even the most challenging tasks in an increasingly complex world.

As new technologies emerge, new forms of energy carriers or new types of construction materials are used, fire safety is not always taken into account as early in the process as it should. In particular, there is, in my view, much too often a lack of fundamental fire research involved early on in product and system research and development. The importance of standardization and regulation development for the innovation process needs to be more emphasized. The fact that there are no IMO guidelines or regulations for how to manage batteries onboard a ship, do not imply that anything is allowed but rather that the regulations were written before electric propulsion was considered possible to use. There has been, to my knowledge, no ship incidents reported but I have seen during thermal runaway battery experiments what might happen. I also know that research is ongoing, and I think the business now knows how to manage this safely, but it was not the case initially. And then again, knowing is not always equivalent of doing. It is most likely that the Grenfell tower fire did not occur due to a lack of knowledge but due to a lack of proper application of existing knowledge.

The problem of ‘modern fires’ is something we at RISE Safety/Fire Research are discussing today. In a modern building involving highly energy efficient insulation and well-controlled ventilation, you can run into problems involving overpressures from the fire heat that might block entrance doors, making it impossible for the inhabitants to evacuate or for rescue personnel to enter. At a recent seminar looking at ‘Modern building fires’, organized by RISE, I saw a film from the Finnish rescue service demonstrating the physical rupture of a window frame due to overpressure, i.e. rather than an increasing pressure breaking the window glass, the whole window frame was blown out.

Fire hazards from energy storage using batteries, in buildings, is another area of concern with modern fires. As is vehicles using new types of energy carriers; batteries, CNG, LNG, methanol, ethanol, hydrogen etc. We also need to transport these new energy systems, or entities carrying such systems, by road, rail, aviation and by sea. How do we make sure that this is done safely? The need for basic research and new types of standardized testing to meet modern fire challenges is clearly visible.

Fire Safety Engineering (FSE) is a popular tool to use and it can be a practical method for innovative new solutions. We have been using it extensively, in relation to projects introducing lightweight fiber reinforced plastics (FRP) in shipbuilding. There is often a lot of work involved in a proper FSE analysis, but a particular problem might be that the recipients lack the competence to judge if the FSE analysis is valid, and indeed it might be difficult to make such a judgement. An interesting question raised by one of my colleagues asked if the Grenfell Tower fire was made possible in spite of or thanks to, the FSE analysis made. As FSE is being extensively used, it seems to be a good idea to put more research into this and perhaps, to develop some kind of standardized protocol that could facilitate both generating and understanding of the analysis, as well as creating some common understanding as to what it means to make a high quality and reliable FSE.

I am grateful to MDM Publishing Ltd for this opportunity to present RISE Safety – Fire Research and hopefully provide you with some understanding of our field of work. RISE and MDM have recently signed an agreement to support each other in the future by sharing fire related articles and news. Articles provided to us by MDM will be published in our journal ‘BrandPosten’ and MDM will also act as media partner for our international conferences; ISTSS, FIVE and Nordic Fire and Safety days.

I am happy that we together with MDM, we will be better equipped to share our fire related research and information as we will be able to reach much of the world fire community through MDM’s global reach. It is our hope and intention that this cooperation will be fruitful and long lasting.

For more information on RISE Research Institutes of Sweden please visit www.ri.se

Vice President Division of Safety and Transport, President of Safety at RISE.

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