Fellowship supports research on a smart coating to fire-proof houses

Fellowship supports research on a smart coating to fire-proof houses

RMIT’s Dr Kate Nguyen will advance her pioneering research into a sustainable coating for fire-proofing houses, thanks to a L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship.

Nguyen has been named a 2020 fellow in the program, one of five exceptional female scientists from Australia and New Zealand recognised for their achievements.

Founded by L'Oréal and UNESCO in 1998, the For Women in Science program has supported the research careers of more than 3,100 women in over 117 countries.

Nguyen is an Australian Research Council DECRA fellow in the School of Engineering.

The chemical and civil engineer looks to create buildings that are greener and bushfire safe, through the development of an advanced and sustainable fire-resistant coating.

“Like millions of Australians I watched with horror the bushfires that ravaged part of the country earlier this year, particularly here in Victoria. I hope my research can protect many homes in fire-stricken areas,” Nguyen said.

Dr Kate Nguyen. Dr Kate Nguyen.

New building materials that offer superior insulation, like expanded polystyrene, increase a building’s thermal efficiency but can also increase fire risk.

When exposed to bushfire conditions, the highly combustible nature of these insulation materials can significantly intensify fuel load – the approximate equivalent of 1 litre of petrol per kilogram of insulation.

“A bushfire can have very high temperature and spread quickly.” Nguyen said.

“So, if we can delay the time that construction material burns, we can protect more homes.”

The ceramic-like coating Nguyen has created is made from industrial waste, often from the coal and mining industry, which has high levels of aluminium and silicon.

It’s a way of sustainably reusing waste that would ordinarily go to landfill, to deliver an environment-friendly coating that can provide a protective envelope over a building.

The sustainability benefits don’t end there. The new fire-resistant coating is made through a process that emits up to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional manufacturing approaches. 

In addition, the coating will help reduce gaps in the building envelope, increasing thermal efficiency so homes require less energy to heat and cool.

“Climate change is increasing bushfires each year, and the global pandemic means we’re spending more time at home,” Nguyen said.

“It is more important than ever to make our homes safe, which includes safety against bushfires, so we don’t see a repeat of last summer’s devastation.

“We know bushfires are growing in severity, with the natural progression of climate change, so we need to find new and innovative measures to protect our vulnerable communities.”

Nguyen hopes her ultra-low carbon emission coating can provide protection for millions of houses in bushfire-prone areas and is working to have the breakthrough coating available within a year.

 

Story: Gosia Kaszubska

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  • Science and technology
  • Advanced Materials
  • Environment

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