A brief history of flame retardant
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A brief history of flame retardant

Flame retardants are substances or compounds that are added to other materials, such as plastics, coatings and textiles to prevent or delat the the spread of fire. The first applications of flame retardants predate the Gregorian calendar. Egyptians soaked wood in alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) around 450 B.C. and timbers were painted with vinegar arounsd 360 B.C. to increase their resistance to fire. Since then, many other materials have been used as flame retardants including clay, hair and gypsum. In 1735, Obadiah Wilde received British patent 551 for his mixture of alum, borax (sodium borate) and ferrous sulphate, which he used to improve the flame retardancy of paper and textile. His invention was first applied to improve safety of canvas used in theatres and public buildings.

Today, global demand for flame retardants has exceeded 2 million tons per year. A major part of this demand comes from the global plastic industries. Since all carbon-based materials are combustible, and the use of plastics is so widespread, there is a need to decrease the risk of fire related accidents. If it is not possible to select a polymer that is inherently flame retardant (e.g. polyamide), adding a flame retardant is a solution. The flame retardant can be mixed with the base material or chemically bonded to it. Broadly speaking, flame retardants can be devided in three groups, (1) inorganic or mineral flame retardants and (2) halogenated compounds.

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