Will a fluorine-free foam be found capable of meeting the US Milspec?

Published:  17 February, 2016

In the last quarter of 2015 the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program of the US DoD issued a Statement of Need (SON) for the development of fluorine-free foams in place of AFFF for fire-suppression operations.

The DoD is searching for companies to identify and test fluorine-free foams for use in place of AFFF that meet the performance requirements defined by MIL-F-24385F – usually shortened to Milspec.

Currently, the Milspec considers only fluorine-containing AFFF products. If these foams successfully pass the rigorous Milspec tests, they can then be listed on the US military's AFFF Qualified Products Listing (QPL).

The move is significant for the foam industry because the US military possesses the largest stockpile of AFFF in the country. According to the DoD’s own estimates the Navy and Air Force together still hold nearly two million litres of PFOS-based concentrate.

Amongst the new requirement are calls for new formulations that are compatible with existing AFFF and supporting equipment and which have been tested to validate persistence and aquatic toxicity as well as been assessed for human health and environmental impacts.

So why the move? The DoD outlines that legacy AFFF contains PFOS and PFOA, which are no longer manufactured. This means it is having to rely on stockpiles to supply active fire-suppression systems. The DoD also notes that remediation processes for treatment of PFCs in groundwater surrounding military installations is expensive.

The DoD acknowledges that although AFFF with short-chain fluorotelomer surfactants is available – with a reduced environmental impact – this foam still has the potential to persist in the environment or to give rise to trace amounts of PFOA by breakdown. It also says that the long-term environmental remediation requirements for this chemistry are uncertain.

It must be pointed out, however, that a number of studies conducted by the US Environment Protection Agency together with foam manufacturers have shown that the breakdown products of C6 foams have low toxicity, low bio-persistence and are not bio-accumulative.

The gauntlet laid down by the DoD is for industry to develop a fluorine-free foam capable of meeting the performance requirements of MIL-F-24385F – a challenge that has hitherto not been met – whilst removing the requirement for a stated minimum fluorine content and the ability to film form on a test fuel (ie have a positive spreading coefficient). The hoped-for resulting foam would, believes the DoD, dramatically reduce the environmental impact of fire suppression training and operations while maintaining the safety of personnel at crash sites or around liquid pool fires.

With one funding stream deadline already awarded and another about to close, coupled with a typical project running time of two to five years, only one thing is certain at this point in time. The answer to whether a fluorine-free foam is capable of passing the extremely arduous performance requirements of the Milspec will not be found for some time yet. 

  • Operation Florian

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