Singapore Scientists Invent Invisible Coating That Turns Wood ‘Fireproof’

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) (Singapore, Southeast Asia) have invented an invisible coating that can “fireproof” wood. This technology is potentially a boon to the construction industry, with the growing popularity of mass engineered timber and the accompanying challenge of preventing untreated wood from burning and combusting. 

Invented by a team led by associate professor Aravind Dasari from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, this fireproof coating is just 0.075 mm (0.003 in) thick and is highly transparent. In contrast to fire-retardant panels and coatings that conceal the natural wood grain of timber, the new coating developed by NTU displays the natural beauty of timber while also providing a flame barrier when activated by fire. 

When heated by flame, the coating undergoes a series of complex chemical reactions that causes it to become a char that expands to more than 30 times its original thickness. The char prevents the fire from combusting the wood underneath, as shown in an accredited lab test.

“Most timber or wooden panels only have a transparent coat that protects them from moisture, weather corrosion, termites, or pests, and are not designed to withstand high heat,” explains Prof. Dasari, an expert in fire-retardant materials. “Thus, timber can still burn very quickly, especially if it is unprotected.” 

“In our coating, we used technology to lock certain compounds and interact with the resin,” adds Dasari. “They will actively participate in the chemical reactions in a systematic manner when exposed to high heat, thus leading to the formation of char. This char was engineered to be extremely heat-resistant, insulating the wood underneath from the high heat.” 

According to NTU Singapore vice president Louis Phee, this new invisible coating is a revolutionary step forward for the timber construction industry. 

“Leveraging on NTU’s strengths in materials science and engineering, this is an example of how fundamental research can be translated into commercial applications with high impact, given that the invisible coating enhances both safety and aesthetics in timber construction with few to no drawbacks,” says Prof. Phee. 

The NTU team is currently in licensing talks with different companies. One of these companies, Singapore-based construction firm Venturer Timberwork, is actively exploring the use of the NTU coating to protect their mass engineered timber elements. 

“At Venturer, like other stakeholders in the mass timber construction sector, we believe more new products will look at using this coating technology if fire resistance can be improved,” says Kevin Hill, Venturer’s managing director. “It has the potential to reduce cost and reliance on other, more expensive solutions, such as using thicker timber to increase charring layers, or by encapsulating the timber with fireboards, which negates the beauty of this sustainable and productive building technology.” 

The coating has a technology disclosure filed through NTUitive, NTU’s innovation and enterprise company, and the commercialization project was funded 250,000 SGD (170,206 USD) through the NTUitive Gap Fund.

Source: NTU Singapore,