Fire is our oldest technology, and was crucial to each step in our development. Fire has given mankind major benefits but has also caused many disasters. Now fire, through controlled burning, provides most of our energy, which in turn causes nearly all the world’s air pollution.
Unwanted fires, ranging from the deliberate "torching" of a car to a major fire disaster resulting in hundreds of deaths, are a growing problem. As more flammable plastic materials replace traditional materials, such as metal, stone, wood, wool and cotton, so the risk increases. Fortunately, unlike wood or wool, manufacturing processes allow fire retardants to be added, to reduce a material’s flammability. Like fire itself, this has advantages and disadvantages. Most materials never get involved in fire, and sustainable recycling and waste disposal is increasingly important. Polymers containing fire retardants may be more difficult to recycle, or may possibly contaminating a batch of recycled material, while effectively fire retarded materials will always be difficult to dispose of by incineration.
Fire is a specialist subject and we are fortunate to have expertise in:
We have a very wide range of facilities and equipment for quantifying fire behaviour and standard testing which is available for research, consultancy and testing.
We will be very pleased to discuss fire problems with you.
Prof. Richard Hull
Tel +44 (0)1772 893543
Fax +44 (0)1772 894981
Dr Anna Stec
Tel +44 (0) 1772 893759
Fax +44 (0) 1772 894981
Fire is the rapid exothermic degradation of a material, characterized by a rapid and often increasing rate of reaction, accompanied by the evolution of heat and light. Partial oxidation results in the formation of solid and liquid aerosols and gases (smoke).
At first, the solid polymer, then the smaller fuel molecules, react slowly with oxygen, generating heat which warms the rest of the material. As they react a low concentration of unstable radicals are formed, capable of reacting billions of times faster than molecules. Radicals are fragments of molecules that can react with other stable molecules, forming even more radicals. This starts a chain reaction and the radical concentration increases. This makes the reaction go faster still, increasing the radical concentration exponentially. When it reaches a certain value, ignition occurs. Flames contain high radical concentrations. Without the initial source of radicals from a flame, much more heat is needed to cause ignition. For sustained burning, the heat fed back from the flame must be greater than the heat required to break down the material, and feed it with enough fuel. For many polymers, the heat of combustion can be up to 20 times the heat needed for polymer breakdown, so once started, it will not stop until it is starved of fuel or oxygen.
Knowing how a material behaves in a fire is a crucial step in reducing the horrifying losses caused by fire. The specialist Fire Research Laboratory has been set up at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in Preston. This has brought together the existing expertise in fire retardancy and fire toxicity which have moved from the Universities of Salford and Bolton to combine with the existing Centre for Fire and Explosion Research produce a Centre of Excellence in Fire and Hazards Science. The Fire Research Laboratory is fully equipped with modern analytical instrumentation and a comprehensive range of small and medium scale fire tests. This will enable the team to pioneer and undertake the development of a new generation of fire safe materials. It will provide a vital service to industrial research and development, allowing improvements in fire safety to be made, before products reach the final, accredited standard testing laboratories. Crucially, it will also provide detailed chemical analysis, presenting a unique insight into how fire retardants work, and how their performance may be improved.
The history of the group’s involvement in fire goes back to 1981, when rapid scanning time-of-flight mass spectrometers with thermal and laser pyrolysis were used to look at the reactive species emanating from decomposing polymers. This approach has evolved into the use of controlled atmosphere and heating rate pyrolysis interfaced to GC-MS for identification of thermal decomposition products.
Much of the specialist equipment at the Laboratory has been designed and developed by our experts over a number of years to gain experimental information towards the above goals. In addition to a suite of laboratory tools for basic decomposition and combustion studies, the Laboratory specialised equipment and facilities, more about this can be found on our facilities pages.
Advances in combustion, explosion science and fluid dynamics have a significant and decisive impact on progress in fire engineering and explosion safety as well as on many important problems facing modern technology and the environment. This determines the main research areas in our Centre.
These research areas cover a wide spectrum of research problems, including new physical and mathematical models of combustion, explosions and related phenomena. It reflects new advances in combustion and explosion science and computational fluid dynamics, which have a significant and decisive impact on progress in fire engineering and create the required fundamentals for the overwhelming majority of applications in fire engineering. These include fires, explosions and other potentially dangerous situations within chemical industry, transportation and storage of chemically active substances, and in the environment. The Centre has also conducted research into large open and enclosed fires and explosions, which is central to the research program of this area. These studies confirm the vulnerability of industrial and civil conurbations with high concentrations of combustibles and lead to a necessity of general studies in hazards, disasters and emergencies. This has resulted in the formation of the second research area.
Unwanted fire has major impact on human society, and our research has been effective in reduce the societal and economic harm from fire.
Examples of impact include:
Fire experts from around the world have visited Preston for a unique conference. Academics, physicians, researchers and firefighters from America, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, France and across the UK joined University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) scholars to discuss the toxic nature of fire smoke.
We provide ourselves on producing new generation of world experts in fire safety through our internationally leading PhD programmes in fire safe materials development. Each PhD programme is tailored to balance the needs of the students and the sponsor, while meeting the demands of academic rigour expected of an internationally leading PhD programme.
We also offer shorter periods of research intensive study leading to MSc (Research) or MPhil.
Fire Retardancy, Fire Toxicity and Fire Science
Combustion, Explosions and Fire Engineering (CEFE)
Fire and Sustainable Built Environment (FSBE)
Telephone: +44 (0) 1772 89 3229
Computational Fluid Dynamics
Some Particular Subjects
Official Research Organizations
The UCLan Fire Research Laboratory has a very wide range of experimental methods and many years of experience in understanding the burning behaviour of all types of materials, especially in the development of those with improved performance in fire. This accumulated knowledge and research expertise can be made available through general liaison, advice and consultancy services.
The particular areas of expertise at the UCLan Laboratories are:
A particular thrust of the UCLan work has been to study the component parts of the burning process. This has been achieved by isolating the individual steps (pyrolysis, product formation, oxidation reactions etc.) of the overall combustion, which are studied in detail under carefully controlled laboratory conditions. This approach assists the understanding of the complex mechanisms of the burning and the identification of the precursors supporting flammability, smoke, toxicity etc. so that particular problems can be controlled within the burning process, for example by promoting char formation rather than the release of flammable species at elevated temperatures.
Fire is a complex chemical process which is poorly understood. Using a full range of chemical analysis techniques (GCMS, FTIR, NMR, HPIC, electrochemical cells), and thermal analysis (TGA-EGA, DSC) and rheometric measurements, and bench scale physical fire models (LOI, UL-94, Cone Calorimetry, Steady State Tube Furnace etc.) we have investigated the decomposition of polymers, the structure and formation of chars, and the gas phase products of decomposition and combustion, including quantification of toxic gases and particulates, and early stage fire gases. This has provided vital mechanistic information on the fire retardant behaviour, and the formation of toxicants in fire gases, informing the development of new fire safe formulations for commercial use. The sensitivity of burning behaviour and toxic product yields to different fire scenarios has led to investigation/understanding of the range of test methods for investigation of flammability and fire toxicity.
Improvement of the fire safety of materials through scientific research
Development of new techniques for studying burning behaviour.
Understanding the mechanisms of decomposition and burning of materials.
Studying the interaction of flame retardants with the burning process.
Liaison with scientists, industrialists, regulators and others concerned with improving the fire safety of materials.
Analysis and interpretation of the results of small scale tests to make predictions about large and real scale fires.