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Front Page » January 29, 2008 » Local News » Professor and students revolutionize fire fighting
Published 2,805 days ago

Professor and students revolutionize fire fighting

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Sun Advocate guest writer

A magnesium fire burns out of control in this courtesy photo from A CEU professor and his team developed a chemical that is highly effective in fighting magnesium fires.

Ten years of research and experimentation paid off for a CEU chemistry professor when the Federal Aviation Authority approved a fire retardant agent for world wide production.

Dr. George U. Uhlig and his team of student researchers from the College of Eastern Utah developed the revolutionary agent FEM-12SC that was picked up by the FAA in September.

With the rising use of magnesium in the production of automobiles and air craft, the recognition of the chemical by the FAA couldn't have come at a better time according to Uhlig.

"When magnesium catches on fire, the use of water will cause the fire to ignite even further, literally creating an explosion," Uhlig said. "When using our substance on the same fire there is no explosion, no sparks and no hassle, just a better, safer method of extinguishing."

According to Uhlig the substance will put out a magnesium fire in minutes and will also work on diesel and gasoline fires as well.

"When tested on five tractor trailer tires that were burning out of control, our substance extinguished the blaze in under 30 seconds to the point that you could walk up and touch the tires with your bare hands," said Uhlig. "A dry chemical extinguisher will put out the blaze but it wont keep it out, our stuff will not only put out the fire but it will prevent it from reigniting."

FEM-12SC is environmentally safe and nontoxic to humans or animals according to Uhlig and is made almost entirely of different types of fertilizers.

The substance can also be used to prevent certain types of coal mine disasters by coating the coal in the gob, completely preventing it from burning, thus reducing the risk of mine fires in locations that are inaccessible to miners due to the lack of roof support.

"One of our best tests concerning coal fires was done at the McLean Mine. The only problem with stopping a mine fire is finding the fire front," said Uhlig. "We found one of the several fronts and after pumping in our agent we were able to stop the fire from advancing but due to one of the many other fronts the fire was able to spread around the treated area and continue burning."

According to Uhlig there is research currently underway that will possibly reduce the cost of the formula making it easier for coal mines to make the change from dry chemical extinguishers to FEM-12SC.

The extinguishers will be the same, only the content will change.

"There have been numerous disasters throughout history that may never have happened if this formulation had been known," said Uhlig. "I believe that the Willow Creek disaster is just one of the many."

The 24 Hours of Le Mans Disaster on June 11, 1955 is another example, with Pierre Levegh behind the wheel of the #20 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR run by Daimler-Benz. There was a devastating wreck and as the remains of the 300 SLR slowed its somersault, the fuel tank, situated behind Levegh's seat, ruptured.

The ensuing fuel fire raised the temperature of the remaining electron bodywork past its flash-point, which due to its high magnesium content was already very low.

Magnesium's properties mean that a combustion in oxygen is possible at relatively low temperatures, allowing the alloy to burst into white hot flames, sending searing embers onto the track and into the crowd.

Rescue workers attempting to put out the burning wreckage were unsuccessful as they unknowingly used water on the magnesium fire, which only intensified the inferno. As a result, the car burned for several hours.

In total, 82 spectators were killed either by flying parts or from the fire, according to

"We have indications that several large airports will be ordering our product to replace all of their dry chemical extinguishers for plane crashes," said Uhlig. "We are also working toward marketing the agent to the automobile industry now that most manufacturers are using more and more magnesium and titanium in the construction of their vehicles."

The 10 years of research and work performed to perfect FEM-12SC, has been done completely by CEU students under the guidance of Dr. Uhlig. FEM-12SC is patented and there are several other pending patents in the names of some of the students that have contributed to the project.

According to Uhlig, every student that contributed to the project will be compensated for their hard work when Thermic Labs Inc. goes public.

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