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Upgrade Fire Safety Codes

Almost 90% high-rise skyscrapers built before 2012 in GCC are cladded with Non Fire Retardant grade Aluminum composite panels due to no strict requirement by specifiers and authorities. Things have changed with initiatives taken by UAE Civil Defence’s new building codes and standards says Rizwan Sajan, Founder and Chairman of Danube.

Rizwan-Sajan,-Founder-and-Chairman-of-Danube.-Intelligent-SMEWhat is the difference between Fire Retardant ACP (Alucopanel FR) and normal ACP?
Fire Retardant ACP (Alucopanel FR) and normal ACP, both are ACP but with a different core material. The core of normal ACP is a thermoplastic core, while Fire Retardant ACP core is made of specially formulated fire retardant  mineral core.

What is fire retardant mineral core?
The core is composed of special chemicals like Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide. These chemicals do not ignite or burn, thus they resist fire. These chemicals do not aid in propagating, enhancing or spreading of fire and thus become a block for fire to reach any combustible material to propagate fire, resulting in retarding of fire. In case of a fire, they simply heat up and beyond specific temperature release water. The released water helps in extinguishing fire by cooling of the fire environment, and water vapor generated from this water dilute the concentration of oxygen in the air. Both temperature and oxygen in air are 2 essential components of the fire triangle to sustain a fire.

All 3 phenomena- Non combustibility of Aluminum Hydroxide and Magnesium Hydroxide, lowering of temperature, and dilution of oxygen concentration in the air help resist, retard and to a limited extent even extinguish fire.

What is the melting point of Core and Aluminum?
Aluminum alloy melts at 660.32˚C, and the mineral core inside melts completely only after the temperature rises above 2500˚C.

Can you explain the Fire retardancy with the help of FR core?
Alucopanel FR resists fire damage by reducing all 3 elements of a fire triangle and suppressing Smoke.

Fuel Control
Alucopanel FR has Non combustible fire-safe mineral core. Mineral core is equivalent to inorganic minerals which do not burn. Aluminum metal does not burn either. PVDF with paint can just char under fire. Thus the Alucopanel FR panel stops fire by limiting fuel supply to the fire.

Heat Control
The mineral core after being heated upto a high temperature releases water and absorbs a lot of energy in this process. This brings down the temperature of the place and water douses the fire. Till the temperature is maintained below the ignition temperature, fire will not start again.

aluminum-composite-panels-Intelligent-SMEAluminum Hydroxide (ATH) decomposes at about 180-200oC, absorbing a considerable amount of heat in the process and giving off
water vapor. Magnesium Hydroxide (MDH) decomposes at 300-330oC to give water and Magnesium Oxide and absorbs energy in the process.

Oxygen Control
Released water from the core at 100 degree centigrade converts into water vapor which mixes with air. This mixing dilutes oxygen concentration in the surrounding air at the place of fire, which again helps in resisting fire.

Smoke Control
The core after being heated turns into refractory gelatinous material, which forms a protective layer over polymer and does not allow smoke gases to come out and oxygen to go in the core and spread fire any further.

In short the fire resistance in Alucopanel FR is a function of not just lessened ignition and fire spread, but also:

  1. Fire resisting
  2. Fire intumescence (An intumescent is a substance, which swells as a result of heat exposure)
  3. Fire retarding properties

According to local research, what is the most common cause of fires in the GCC region? Please feel free to break this down on country-wise basis, if possible.
There are number of reasons that lead to building fires and they range from spark in electric wiring, barbeque inside apartment, cigarette butt thrown uncaringly etc. Likewise, fire propagates rapidly because of thermoplastic core material used in manufacturing of aluminum composite panels that worked as fuel in fire propagation as oxygen is certain at height. We all know that three elements are required in proper combination before ignition and combustion can take place –  Fuel, Air to supply oxygen and Heat (ignition temperature) to start and continue the combustion process.

Almost 90% high-rise skyscrapers built before 2012 in GCC are cladded with Non Fire Retardant grade Aluminum composite panels due to no strict requirement by specifiers and authorities. Things have changed with initiatives taken by UAE Civil Defence’s new building codes and standards.

Fire propagates rapidly because of  the thermoplastic core material used in manufacturing of aluminum composite panels. This works as fuel ito continue the combustion process. 

How can fire safety be improved in each country?
First and foremost, only certified materials should be approved in GCC and regular inspection by an accredited 3rd party certification body should became mandatory throughout GCC. At present Dubai, Sharjah & Doha are strictly following the new code and approving fire retardant building materials but other GCC countries are still allowing the use of non-fire retardant building materials, in particular for aluminium composite panels.

How do the risks of fire accidents differ with the age of a building: for instance, I would assume the façade of an older building is safer than currently-used glass façades, but wiring and other MEP systems would be more problematic in dated structures.

At present, designers and specifiers are strictly following Civil Defence & Municipality approved products. This was not the case earlier. New buildings are using much better and stronger materials compared to old buildings. But the wiring of old buildings should be rechecked periodically.

What are some of the most notable GCC projects Alucopanel ME has been involved with? Which projects are you currently working on?
ALUCOPANEL™ the world’s leading manufacturer of ACP (Aluminum Composite Material) is a subsidiary of the Danube Group of Companies. Alucopanel launched Class A (ASTM E84) grade material in March 2014 which became very popular after getting its core material approved as “Class A” which was first time in GCC after the Civil Defence revised the fire safety code in 2013. Alucopanel products are exported to entire GCC and to Russia, Europe, South America, Asia, Middle East and Southeast Asia. In a very short span of time, ALUCOPANEL™ has been involved in major projects in GCC – Dubai Festival City Phase II, Doha Festival City, Nakheel Mall of Riyadh; Jeddah Port Tower; Juffair Heights Twin Tower of Bahrain; Derwin Tower in Qatar; Grand Mallof Riyadh; CEILO Tower in Bahrain; ALBA Aluminum Bahrain, AMFA Tower in Juffair, Bahrain, Lusail Tower in Qatar and so on.

What are current codes/standards for structural and design elements such as façade materials, flooring, steel, and roofs in the UAE?
There are some serious intricacies involved when it comes to codes/ standards for structural and design elements- such as facade, materials, flooring, steel and roof in the UAE. However, Civil Defence is responsible only for the design and not for the materials. The contractors must provide [fire-retardant] certificates for each material used in construction for it to be approved by Civil Defence.

Strict regulation is laid out for validation of certificates of importing, installation and testing a guaranteed fire and alarm system by an approved installation and maintenance company. An undertaking certificate is required for maintaining fire equipment by the owner and the certificate of installing fire rated doors and cables is also needed along with a copy of the trade license and maintenance contract of fire equipment and systems. Besides, a road-map of the premises, is a prerequisite for the issuance of a completion certificate.

What are the current fire standards for aluminium sandwich panels used for construction in the UAE? Also, is this a UAE-wide decision or only Dubai Municipality’s? When were these codes updated, and what did the new updates include?
Dubai Civil Defence has taken significant steps to ensure the safety of buildings and the general public by updating its Fire and Life Safety Code in 2013 and made it a requirement that exterior cladding is fire-retardant on all new buildings over 15 meters tall.

The latest UAE fire-safety code are much more stringent than before and clearly emphasises that the core material used in cladding panels must be tested separately by exposing it to fire without the aluminium skin. This test is an absolute must to achieve Class A level when tested in accordance to American Standard ASTM E84.

The local and international fire codes generally require all exterior walls to be of limited combustibility subject to full and small scale fire tests. Dubai Civil Defence drafted specific regulations relating to exterior walls in 2012 and have been applying these requirements which normally involve full scale facade fire testing combined with small scale tests. It is recommended that existing buildings be evaluated where a fire risk assessment is undertaken by a suitably qualified person to understand the fire risks and appropriate measures be incorporated into the buildings. Class – A2 (DIN 4102) grade ALUCOPANEL™ – aluminum composite cladding façade is recommended for buildings more than 15 meters tall and for a lesser height, Class A (ASTM E84) grade material is suitable. It’s about setting a trend of safety and security that everyone in the society takes responsibility for. It’s about getting a little better every day, all the time.

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