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Fighting fire with corn

July 5, 2012
By Dennis Timmerman , Marshall Independent

Senior Project Development Director, AURI

Who wouldn't like a product that could put out fires faster? What if that product is also biodegradable and doesn't harm the environment or wildlife? Even better, what if it was also made out of a renewable resource? It may sound too good to be true, but a new product, called TetraKO, does just that.

EarthClean Corporation, founded by veteran Minnesota entrepreneur Doug Ruth, launched TetraKO this year. TetraKO is a powdered concentrate composed of cornstarch and proprietary thickening agents, said Doug Root, AURI analytical chemist, who has worked with the company on bench tests. is mixed directly into fire truck water tanks, where it turns water into a gel the consistency of hand sanitizer. The gel converts to a free-flowing liquid when it's pumped under pressure through standard firefighting equipment.

After TetraKO leaves the fire hose nozzle, it reverts to a gel, which "sticks and stays" to walls, ceilings, roofs and other surfaces, providing a thick blanket of fire protection that doesn't run off like water or foam. When heated by flames, TetraKO releases a cooling steam, which helps smother the fire and dramatically cuts the risk of rekindling.

On wildland fires, TetraKO clings to bushes, trees, and grasses for hours without falling to the ground, creating a fire barrier that can be applied from the air, trucks, or backpack sprayers.

TetraKO "could revolutionize fire department operation," said Nyle Zikmund, chief of the 60-member Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department, which has been field testing TetraKO for more than a year.

Firefighter safety is the No. 1 benefit, said Chief Zikmund, who also serves on the board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Independent tests performed by EFI Global, an engineering and fire investigation service, found that TetraKO was 91 percent more effective in knocking out structure fires than water alone and 86 percent more efficient than foam. This improved knockdown power lets firefighters attack the fire defensively, from a much safer position outside of the building.

TetraKO doesn't use toxic chemicals and won't corrode equipment. It's been independently certified as non-toxic to plants, fish and mammals. The technology has been independently tested to the EPA Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) standard and verified to be as "ready biodegradable," EPA's top rating. In fact, it's the first fire suppression tool to receive the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE) certification, which recognizes environmentally safe chemical products.

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) is currently working to help EarthClean develop TetraKO as a Class A fire retardant and obtain USDA Forest Service certification, which will allow TetraKO to be used on federal wildland fires. The next phase is for AURI and EarthClean, with the help of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council and Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, to develop and certify a Class B or Class A and B fire retardant.

"I see this technology as a way to change how the world fights fires," said EarthClean founder Doug Ruth.

To see TetraKO in action, go to: tetrako.com/index.php/videophotos/

 
 

 

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