Roastbusters! Firefighters of the future to zap flames with electric charge?

Paul Raven @ 31-03-2011

I try to avoid doing the old “hey, look at this cool tech idea that may never make it past the drawing-board!” posts these days, but I hope you’ll forgive me this one. I mean, c’mon: who among us can’t get enthused about the idea of tomorrow’s brave firefighters fighting back the flames with Ghostbusters-style backpacks that shoot electricity out of a sort of wand? Sounds crazy, but it’s apparently Real Science™ [via Science Not Fiction]:

Firefighters currently use water, foam, powder and other substances to extinguish flames. The new technology could allow them to put out fires remotely — without delivering material to the flame — and suppress fires from a distance. The technology could also save water and avoid the use of fire-fighting materials that could potentially harm the environment, the scientists suggest.

In the new study, they connected a powerful electrical amplifier to a wand-like probe and used the device to shoot beams of electricity at an open flame more than a foot high. Almost instantly, the flame was snuffed out. Much to their fascination, it worked time and again.

The device consisted of a 600-watt amplifier, or about the same power as a high-end car stereo system. However, Cademartiri believes that a power source with only a tenth of this wattage could have similar flame-suppressing effect. That could be a boon to firefighters, since it would enable use of portable flame-tamer devices, which perhaps could be hand-carried or fit into a backpack.

If someone manages to get this idea to a viable production stage, finding volunteers for forest fire suppression duty should become a lot easier…

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3 Responses to “Roastbusters! Firefighters of the future to zap flames with electric charge?”

  1. ConfidentlyDubious says:

    I have read the press release and I found it distinctly lacking in technical detail. Moreover, though I am not an expert of flames, what detail is present is misleading or imprecise. What do you exactly do to “shoot beams of electricity”? And what is the link between an audio amplifier, which is a device with the task of providing a controlled voltage across a low-impedance load connected to it through wires, with gear which -so it seems- has to generate electrical effects (charge?) at a distance? Finally, how acting on flames affects the combustion that generates those flames and the heat?
    Eveng doing some (quick) research on the internet did not lead to much insight. The only slighty more precise description that I found is this:
    “We found that oscillating electric fields can elicit strong macroscopic responses in methane/air non‐premixed flames such as deflection, reshaping, and even extinction.”
    Maybe the use of the word “wand” (instead of, you know, “electrode” or something like that) is a symptom of something…

  2. Paul Raven says:

    It is a bit of an odd one, to the extent that I checked the article date closely to see if it wasn’t an early push for April Fool’s. Probably vapourware either way, hence my tone. :)

  3. prosopago says:

    And what will you do with electrical fires? What about fires with substances with a really low ignition point? I say BS!

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