Having successfully launched high performance, new technology firefighting foam into Europe and parts of Asia gives the Wisconsin-based Solberg Company a big advantage as it maneuvers for a share of the Americas foam business, said company spokesperson Dave Pelton. “I think it is obvious that ultimately, as the regulations broaden and tighten overseas, there will continue to be pressure on fluorinated-based foam concentrates around the world including the Americas,” he said.
Acquired by Amerex Corporation in 2011, Solberg introduced its latest product to the U.S. market in June – an Underwriters Laboratories listed high performance, fluorosurfactant-free, fluoropolymer-free three percent firefighting foam concentrate. Formulated using a new synthetic foam technology, RE-HEALING™ RF3, 3% is designed to replace traditional AFFF and FFFP concentrates and older protein and fluoroprotein foams.
“Today, when accessing products needed to protect industrial facilities, fire safety and risk management personnel are looking for products that provide superior performance and ease of use from a reputable manufacturer,” said Pelton, Solberg’s vice president of marketing. In the case of foam, fire performance is paramount. RE-HEALING Foam (RF) provides rapid extinguishment of hydrocarbon fuels, exceptional burn-back resistance, and can be used with existing facility onsite foam proportioning and discharge devices. The product just also happens to be environmentally benign – an added side benefit.
Environmental benefit aside, RE-HEALING Foam takes its name from a unique bubble structure that better serves the primary function of firefighting foam – isolating fuel vapor from continued ignition. “Due to its remarkable flow and rapid resealing characteristics, RE-HEALING Foam is ideal to prevent re-ignition of a liquid spill and controls hazardous vapors. The significant benefit here is a very stable, long lasting foam blanket that minimizes the need for re-application of foam after the fire is extinguished and vapor suppression becomes paramount,” Pelton said.
Solberg traces its roots to the late 1960s when it was founded in Norway as a distributor for National Foam and other firefighting products. Soon after, Solberg progressed to becoming a “toll blender,” producing National Foam concentrate under a licensing agreement for resale in Europe.
In the 1980s, Solberg switched its allegiance from National Foam to 3M, providing that brand for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Then, 3M exited the fire foam business in 2000 after environmental concerns arose concerning its unique electro-fluorination process for producing fluorinated surfactants. At the time, 3M had been working behind the scene researching next generation fluoro-free foam products.
Solberg acquired the patents and trademarks in 2007 from 3M related to the development of new, completely fluorine free foam products. Since the acquisition of this technology, Solberg has devoted years to the improvement and commercialization of this new foam technology in Europe and Australia.
In 2008, Alabama-based Amerex Corporation, a maker of high quality portable fire extinguishers and pre-engineered systems, founded Janus Fire Systems, a leader in the fire suppression special hazards industry. Amerex’s ambition was to become a full-line manufacturer of fire protection products, Pelton said.
Building on the success of Janus Fire Systems, Amerex acquired Solberg in 2011, with the intention of launching this new, state of the art foam technology into the Americas. Today, upon further refinements of the technology, Solberg has successfully obtained Underwriters Laboratories listings for both a 3% and 6% version of the fluoro-free foam.
In addition to RE-HEALING fluoro-free foam, Solberg also offers five other foam concentrates from its manufacturing facilities in Green Bay, Wisconsin. These are based on the old but proven technology in firefighting foam, with the one exception. The AFFF and AR-AFFF concentrates are fully 2015 compliant with the USEPA 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program. These agents are a 1% and 3% AFFF, a 1x3% and 3x3% ATC™ and a Class A foam called FIRE-BRAKE™.
The company also introduced a foam hardware line of proportioning equipment, discharge devices, and mobile products such as bladder tanks, atmospheric tanks, foam carts and pump skids. “The hardware line is something new that we’ve introduced back to the European and Asian market where our name is more established for foam concentrates,” Pelton said.
The term “RE-HEALING” come from the product’s ability to seal itself if the foam blanket is disturbed. To qualify under UL 162, the same testing standard as AFFF and AR-AFFF, RF3, 3% foam concentrate was required to not only achieve successful extinguishment but also a level of resistance to re-ignition known as “burn back.”
“Old technology, traditional foam products have a characteristic known as ‘ghosting’ or flame flicker across the foam surface during burn-back testing,” Pelton said. “At no point in the UL listing process did any of the RE-HEALING foam concentrate exhibit this problem. All RE-HEALING foams self-extinguish during burn-back testing”
Vapor suppression can be a preventative measure rather than a firefighting tool. A significant portion of foam concentrate utilized in an industrial setting is used to protect exposed product as in the event of a sunken storage tank roof or a ground spill. “You’re obviously looking to put down foam to prevent those vapors from finding an ignition source,” Pelton said. Whether used against a real fire or to prevent one, RE-HEALING foam offers the same key advantages, he said. “One advantage is a long drain time,” Pelton said. “Whereas a typical AFFF’s quarter drain time will be about three minutes, maybe five if you’re lucky, with fluorine-free foams we’re seeing drain times of 20 to 60 minutes, even longer.”
RE-HEALING foam concentrates are intended for use on Class B hydrocarbon and polar solvent fires. However, on Class A fuels, RE-HEALING foam offers improved extinguishment of deep-seated fires. Foam discharge devices such as air aspirating and non-air aspirating equipment, including standard sprinkler heads (at the same minimum sprinkler discharge pressures as used for AFFF), can be used to obtain maximum.
The foam concentrate can be mixed on scene or pre-mixed, using fresh, sea or brackish water. RE-HEALING foam is also compatible with dry chemical agents. A “training foam” version of the product allows for continued hand-on live fire training without the concern of environmental impact.
Whereas the United States still permits fluorinated agents in fire fighting foams, Solberg has long experience in markets where the use of fluorine in fire fighting foams is under strict regulatory review.
“We recently secured the contract for the New South Wales Fire Brigade in Australia with our fluorine-free foam,” Pelton said. “We also were previously awarded the Air Services contracts for airports across Australia.”
“Like most manufacturers, Solberg is not only servicing its existing customer base in industries such as aviation, chemical, petrochemical, solvent & coatings and utilities, but is also looking geographically at where those customers are making significant investments and pursuing the business be it the Middle East or additional countries within the Asia-Pacific,” Pelton said. “While we are certainly a new foam provider here in the Americas, we’re not new to the foam industry.”