Eco-friendly gel could help prevent forest fires
When it comes to fighting forest fires, authorities typically just wait for the fires to start, then work on putting them out. A newly-developed gel, however, could allow forestry workers to be more proactive, by keeping fires from occurring in the first place.
Developed by scientists at California's Stanford University, the carrier gel is made entirely out of cellulose-based nontoxic materials "used in food, drug, cosmetic and agricultural products." The idea is that it could be combined with existing fire-retardant chemicals – of the type that are commonly seen being deployed from forest fire-fighting aircraft – then preemptively sprayed or dropped onto areas where fires are likely to occur.
Ordinarily, fire-retardant compounds are quickly washed off of trees and other plants by rain, or are blown off by wind. When mixed with the very clingy gel, however, they're much better able to withstand adverse weather, to the point that a single annual application can reportedly provide protection for the entire peak fire season.
That said, arid weather conditions are also not a problem.
"The gel-like retardants do dry up quickly, but they leave a retardant film on the vegetation that maintains the retardant function," Asst. Prof. Eric Appell tells us. "The retardants that exist currently don’t form nice films on the vegetation, and so they are blown off the vegetation by wind or are easily washed away by dew or small rain events."
Eventually the gel does flake off, harmlessly biodegrading into the environment. And while the ammonium polyphosphate retardants used in the study are also considered eco-friendly, Appel states that by preventing forest fires instead of putting them out, less of those chemicals would need to be used.
"As with human health, prevention is always cheaper and easier than treatment," he says.
Source: Stanford University
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