Keeping safe from flames: it's all about the chemistry!
Never so safe as with Solvay at your side
Workers need appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to be protected from common workplace risks like flash fire, molten metal or electric arcs. With its trademark flame retardant PROBAN®, Solvay offers an affordable and highly effective solution to that end.
PROBAN® is a molecularly designed composite material consisting of a natural fiber -- cotton -- which is integrated with a manufactured polymer. When exposed to flame, PROBAN® fabrics form an insulating char that helps protect the wearer. They do not smoulder or melt, and the flame doesn't spread outside the charred area.
“Phosphorus-containing polymers, which are created in-situ, are what give the fabrics their flame resistance”, explains Susan MacDonald, PROBAN® Global Market Director at Solvay Technology Solutions. ”Our polymer is made within the cotton fabric directly at our licensees’ mills, as opposed to in a chemical plant.”
With our latest developments providing lightweight and comfortable workwear that people are happier to wear, better protection is more likely as people are more inclined to wear their PPE.
A textile-chemistry collaboration
And here is how it’s done: “Solvay sells a monomer to its licensed textile mills across the world, which perform an in-situ polymerization where they convert a monomer into a polymer using ammonia as a curing agent. The monomer gets trapped at the core of the cotton fiber, and the resulting polymer is locked in.”
According to Susan, Solvay is “the only chemical supplier who then receives fabric samples from every production batch made by its licensees and checks these against international flame spread standards in our independently accredited lab in Oldbury, UK.”
“Only fabrics that pass our tests can be called PROBAN®.The PROBAN® polymer is permanently bound to the core of the cotton and delivers flame retardant (FR) protection for the lifetime of the garment, provided the item is clean and properly maintained following garment care instructions.”
Workwear you actually want to wear
PROBAN® fabrics (pictured above on Solvay employees) have other advantages too. Sharan Monga, PROBAN® Research and Intelligence Analyst at Solvay Technology Solutions explains: “Natural fibers are more comfortable and protect you very well when compared to synthetic fibers. In some applications like steel production, they’re the only option available for protection.
“Cotton is more affordable, but that doesn’t mean that its performance is not better. Moreover, with our latest developments providing lightweight and comfortable workwear that people are happier to wear, better protection is more likely as people are more inclined to wear their PPE. We've had comments like 'we don't want a driver to leave his/her FR jacket in the cab because he/she is too hot or uncomfortable.’ We want to be sure our PPE is worn properly to protect people.”
The mannequins in the spotlight video below show an example comparing synthetic aramid and PROBAN®. They demonstrate that PROBAN® is highly effective for protection against flash fires.
Tried and tested by Solvay
Sharan further explains, “Based on a natural fiber, PROBAN® is stable to UV light and retains its tear and tensile strength properties with UV exposure, making it the perfect choice for working in outdoor environments. We recommend that end users test the suitability of various fabric technologies in strong UV conditions before choosing their protective garments.”
“Not only is PROBAN® protecting workers worldwide, but it is also protecting Solvay employees in sites across Europe,” says Susan. “It is a cost-effective, comfortable, fully compliant solution for workwear that we are proud to have invented and continue to develop to this day.”