Flame retardants and their indispensable role in mitigating fire risks in transportation - Let's talk bromine
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Flame retardants and their indispensable role in mitigating fire risks in transportation

Modes of transport are evolving and advancing with new technologies, which are helping us to travel more sustainably, and with less environmental impact. However, these advancements bring with them increasing fire risks, from the flammability of lithium-ion batteries in e-vehicles to the complex network of electrical systems in aircraft. They demand stringent fire safety standards to continue ensure the safety of passengers. In this context, flame retardants (FRs) act as a crucial line of defence against the ignition and rapid spread of fire. So, what are these modern fire safety challenges we are facing and why are FRs so crucial to achieving good fire safety standards and mitigating risks?

Robust fire safety standards are vital

When it comes to modern transportation infrastructure, the flammability of materials plays a key role. Connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices and electrical devices, including e-vehicles, are projected to grow to 30 billion in 2030, an increase of over 200% since 2020. These devices are embedded with software, sensors, and other technologies that require high fire safety standards to protect life and property [1]. Last month in a metro in Toronto, Canada, an e-bike powered by a lithium-ion battery caught fire and spread across a train carriage, injuring one person.  It is likely that the e-bike did not meet sufficient safety requirements or did not require a sufficient level of fire safety. However, the seats of the train, where FRs are commonly used, remained intact, preventing the spread of the fire and mitigating additional risks to life. Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg stressed the need for users to check that they are using batteries and charging cords that are designed and approved by the manufacturer of their device [2].

Flame retardants are proven to improve fire safety

FRs, including brominated flame retardants (BFRs), have proven to effectively address the unique fire safety challenges posed by modern transportation. They exhibit significant fire-suppressant properties making them a key tool in achieving high flammability standards. They work to:

  • Disrupt the combustion stage of a fire cycle including avoiding or delaying “flashover,” or the burst of flames that engulfs a room and makes it much more difficult to escape.
  • Limit the process of decomposition by physically insulating the available fuel sources from the material source with a fire-resisting “char” layer.
  • Dilute the flammable gases and oxygen concentrations in the flame formation zone by emitting water, nitrogen, or other inert gases.


Greater escape times save lives

One of the paramount considerations in fire safety is the concept of escape time. In emergencies, every second counts, and FRs contribute significantly to extending this critical window. By slowing down the combustion process and inhibiting the rapid spread of flames, FR-treated materials provide occupants with invaluable additional time to evacuate, reducing the risk of injuries and fatalities. Aeroplanes, for example, carry a large amount of fuel and the cabin contains plastics, polymers, and composites. When a ground accident occurs, flame retardants can help ensure passengers have the best chance of exiting a damaged aircraft safely. The Japan Airlines incident in January 2024 reminded us of the importance of escape time and fire safety standards in transport infrastructure. A combination of a flawless evacuation and new technologies to prevent the spread of fire [3] allowed all 367 passengers and 12 crew to leave the aircraft within 20 minutes [4].


In the landscape of modern transportation, the importance of robust fire safety measures cannot be overstated. BSEF and its members remain committed to advancing research, promoting responsible use, and collaborating with industry stakeholders. Together, we can ensure that the fire safety challenges presented by a more technologically advanced future are mitigated.



[1] https://www.euractiv.com/section/railways/opinion/electrical-applications-in-iot-and-e-vehicles-a-fire-safety-challenge/

[2] https://globalnews.ca/news/10199944/e-bike-fire-ttc-subway-safety-concerns/

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-67865132

[4] https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20240105-plane-wreckage-being-cleared-from-tokyo-airport-after-collision

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