DARPA Demonstrates New Fire-Suppression Method

Using electromagnetic fields and acoustics techniques to destabilize flame plasma worked on small flames, but large-scale suppression has yet to be demonstrated, the program manager said.

A new video posted on YouTube and a Jan. 19 news release are DARPA's announcement of a new way to fight fires in confined spaces, such as aboard ships or inside airplane cockpits.

The method tested by a DARPA research team at Harvard University running the Instant Fire Suppression program, which ended recently, involves destabilizing flame plasma by using electromagnetic fields and acoustics techniques -– employing physics rather than combustion chemistry, according to the description of the program available on DARPA's website. This worked on small flames but has not yet been shown to work on large ones, said Matthew Goodman, the DARPA program manager. "We successfully suppressed small flames and limited re-ignition of those flames, as well as exhibited the ability to bend flames," he said in the news release. "These effects, to date are very local -- scaling is a challenge that remains to be overcome."

The video shows how using a hand-held electrode can suppress small methane flames. Unlike traditional suppression methods using water, carbon dioxide, or chemical suppressants, this method would cause no collateral damage and could work in confined spaces or behind obstacles, according to the agency.

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