Heal the world by design

Heal the world by design

Water mist is eco-friendly and sustainable argues Bettina McDowell, General Manager of the International Water Mist Association, the organisation that is dedicated to the continuous development and extension of water mist technology. Here Bettina explains why water mist fits into a world facing many challenges when it comes to the protection of the environment. 

Sustainability and eco-friendliness are in vogue. Everybody is talking about climate change. People who have tried to avoid this topic in the past now have to, or actually want to, face it as the need to countersteer is manifest. Humankind has an impact on nature and all too often it is a negative one. Some people argue that living conditions and climate have always changed and this, of course, is absolutely true. However, earth overshoot day is coming earlier every year. So, would less actually be more?  

In the 1980s the world acted to save the ozone layer. The news that chemicals found in many personal hygiene products had caused a hole which was getting bigger and bigger was dramatic and spurred the signing of the Montreal Protocol. One of the substances that was then banned was halon – a chemical used, amongst others, as a fire suppression agent that had done a good job; was effective; efficient; cheap; and easy to install, but which had also caused ozone depletion. Regarding fire protection, the phasing-out of halon left a gap which was filled by the water mist technology. 

Now, what makes a water mist system sustainable and eco-friendly? The first two points here are that a water mist system uses water and indeed less of it. We all know that water is pure and natural. And water is precious. Not only in the Middle East. where, “using less water means less water has to be drawn from drinking water resources”, says Henrik Bygbjerg, Global Director R&D, Service, EHS&Q at Danfoss Fire Safety.

Water-based fire suppression systems make up by far the largest share of the extinguishing technology sector. Water mist systems use up to 85 % less water than traditional sprinkler systems and are either connected to the mains or a tank. If they are connected to a tank, this tank obviously does not need a lot of expensive square meterage. The other option – using the mains and thus the existing infrastructure – makes water mist systems attractive for home and building owners. If they choose water mist, they get a system which not only protects the building itself but also increases the level of life safety, by attacking the fire without the usage of harmful substances, and uses less water which reduces the possible water damage to surviving property and assets. 

Water mist systems and traditional sprinkler systems can only be compared to a certain degree. However, the end customer, looking for a water-based fire protection system, should be made aware of the fact that traditional sprinkler systems are fed from a huge water tank which has an enormous amount of water sitting there for sometimes years on end, not being used. 

So, with a smaller tank or a connection to the mains we are talking space savings, obviously also material savings and consequently cost savings. The same applies to other vital components such as pipes, valves and pumps. 

Another point in favour of water mist is the fact that it is quick to install and easy to retrofit. Water mist systems are often integrated into existing buildings as customers prefer not to, or simply cannot, give up the space for a tank. Especially in historic buildings where the integration of a fire protection system can be intricate and the possibility to have no tank and to use pipes which are smaller in diameter makes water mist system very viable. And should the need arise to extend an existing system with additional areas having to be included into the overall fire protection concept, the minimum required nozzle pressure can easily be reached. 

When it comes to the longevity of systems Henrik Bygbjerg recommends: “Use stainless steel in all components that will come into contact with water!” The use of stainless-steel components is not mandatory, but prevents corrosion which is not only beneficial for the conservation of the system but also lowers the risk of contamination. Henrik Bygbjerg adds: “Using stainless steel also helps moving towards circular construction and buildings as it is easier to re-use than for example galvanised or plastic pipes. Michael Bindreiter, Head of Global Sales, Aquasys, states: “The use of high-quality corrosion-resistant stainless steel prevents contamination, supports a high hygiene standard and the longevity of the system.” 

Talking of ‘contamination’ and ‘hygiene’ brings us straight to the next point: the challenge to dispose of the residue after fire incidents in hazardous areas like the nuclear industry, pharmaceuticals and electronic manufacturing. When a fire breaks out in such areas this can result in the release of many different toxins and chemicals from the fuel of the fire and / or the gases. The firewater gathers these substances. Luciano Nigro, president at Jensen Hughes Con. Europe – Milan, says: “In hazardous areas the extinguishing water has to be picked up and disposed of after a fire which is a difficult job that becomes easier the less water there is. The quantity of water discharged by a water mist system minimised therefore easier to contain and much less expensive to dispose of.” 

Besides this, the overall damage is reduced due to less water being discharged. An important point here is: the less water there is, the quicker it evaporates. This again means cost savings because there is less downtime for businesses and looking at it from the environmental perspective, less waste and the possibility to salvage resources thus less infrastructure, furniture and equipment has to be replaced.

Another point is the room-filling effect: due to the size of the droplets water mist is well distributed, fills many nooks and crevices within seconds of activation, something the languorous sprinkler droplets cannot accomplish.  Water mist is permanently discharged and thus the area is continuously fed with new fine droplets. Most of them can directly interact with the source of the fire. All this leads to a massive cooling effect that prevents re-ignition and a good shielding of heat radiation and, as a consequence, insulation of the fire. 

Based on all these facts, more and more end customers choose water mist systems. One reason is of course that the technology is eco-friendly in itself. Another reason is that more and more buildings are designed with the environment in mind and refraining from selecting an eco-friendly fire protection system would not make sense.

The Green Pea is a four-storey multi-purpose-centre in Turin, Italy, with a focus on eco-friendly retail and dining, which has been built based on the principles of sustainable architecture with minimal impact on the environment. VID Fire-Kill together with their Italian distributor Bettati Antincendio will partake in the re-development of the building. “Here, environmental-friendly firefighting meets the principles of sustainable architecture as the aim is to impact the environment as little as possible”, say Alex Palle, CEO at VID Fire-Kill.

When planning and erecting the Alsik Hotel in Sonderborg in southern Denmark, the aim was to optimise the supply and use of energy, water and materials and to ensure that running the hotel is as environmentally friendly as possible. 

Only the most energy-efficient ones suppliers were considered and Danfoss Fire Safety was given the task to implement the fire safety system. Henrik Bygbjerg says: “We are extremely proud to have been chosen as the supplier of the fire protection system and to be part of a construction project that makes a real statement in terms of expertise in clean-tech solutions.” 

It is one thing to be in harmony with the environment, but the other is to protect it. An important aspect here is the protection of vulnerable areas and high-tech equipment under sensitive environmental conditions while at the same time reducing the risk of contamination. This is a constant challenge for operators of laboratories, data centres, hospitals or semiconductor production facilities. In these surroundings the combination of the technological advantages of water mist and the use of high-quality stainless steel, especially for pipes but also for all other components that come into contact with water, are the main benefits of the system.

Michael Bindreiter says: “The prevention of corrosion in the piping, the option to use demineralised water together with high-grade stainless steel and in consequence being able to lower the risk of contamination ensures that even the highest cleanliness requirements can be met.” 

Within the four-storey State Laboratory Berlin Brandenburg, 249m2 of laboratories with security level 3 are protected with a modern high-pressure water mist system by Aquasys.

In order to meet the special requirements of laboratory operations, the fire protection concept was implemented in close consultation with planners, authorities and the client. The  disposal of contaminated water was one of the key factors why they preferred a high-pressure water mist system to a traditional sprinkler system. 

And what about other industrial sectors that have set out to protect the environment just like the water mist manufacturers only in different fields? In 2016, the water mist manufacturer Marioff provided the fire protection system for a machinery space within a renewable-energy power plant in Italy.  Massimo Ferretti, Marioff’s area sales manager, explains: “The customer was very keen to have a water mist system because it does not harm humans; the impact on the production plant in case of an emergency would be minimal; it has no impact on the environment and because there are no disposal costs for the extinguishing agent thus the system as a whole protects staff, plant and environment.”   

Global climate change has been identified as one of the most important – if not the most important – environmental challenge to be faced by humanity in the 21st century. In 2019, Earth Overshoot day was on 29th July. In 2020 it was on 22nd August. COVID-19 has caused humanity’s ecological footprint to shrink. 

However, real sustainability can only ever be achieved by design, not disaster.