Warning odor signals impending fire long before flames arise
4GENE, a company specializing in glycosylated materials, has developed a biotechnological solution to fire risks.
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Fire in a machine plant.
“The bonded warning odors can be applied to the equipment to be protected as a sticker, with a pen or already during production in the form of a coating.”
managing director of the developing company 4GENE
Fire is a major hazard for technical equipment. The increasing use of electric drives makes for particularly explosive situations, as the fire at the Stuttgart bus depot shows: a bus caught fire during the loading process – and although the fire department was on the scene only four and a half minutes later, the fire had already spread to other buses. In the end, the loss of 25 buses and the surrounding building and charging infrastructure.
4GENE, a company specializing in glycosylated materials based at the Biotechnology Innovation and Start-up Center in Martinsried near Munich, has developed a biotechnological solution to such risks. In this process, artificial, intense smoke odor is bound glucosidically in a special procedure. The odorant is released at a fixed time when a critical temperature is exceeded. This warning odor signals an impending fire long before the flames start to burst out of the system. “SNIFF & SAVE” is what the technology company 4GENE calls the mechanism, which is based on a granted patent and three patent applications based on it. The temperature that must be reached to release the warning substance is ideally 130°C. 4GENE is working on lowering the temperature, as this is necessary for certain applications. A 100°C and an 80°C solution is currently being tested.
Heimo Adamski, managing director of the developing company 4GENE
Protection by sticker or coating
The warning odors can be varied in scent and type, and application to electrical, technical and mechanical equipment is simple: “The bonded warning odors can be applied to the equipment to be protected as a sticker, with a pen or already during production in the form of a coating,” says Heimo Adamski, managing director of the developing company 4GENE. Originally, the technology was specified for the cosmetics industry – but the areas of application have long since extended into the technical field. “In the event of technical defects with associated overheating, the strong smoky warning odors bound to glucose are released via the predetermined breaking point in the molecule. This already happens at temperatures that are already critical, but are still far from the formation of real smoke gases. Our system therefore warns much earlier than conventional smoke or fire alarm systems,” explains Dr. Isabelle Effenberger from 4GENE’s scientific team. The first well-known industrial companies are already conducting pilot projects with the technology.
Integration of electronic systems
The effect of SNIFF & SAVE is intuitive: The smell is perceived and immediately associated with fire and danger – but long before any real danger threatens. Catastrophes such as the fire at the Stuttgart bus depot would thus have had a much more benign outcome than the total loss of buses and buildings. However, the warning of an imminent fire by strong odors requires a human being to be in the vicinity as a “sensor”. For industrial plants, machine operators come into question; for means of transport, the vehicle driver. For parked vehicles, it would also be possible to integrate the technology into electronic warning systems. In this case, an “electronic nose” replaces humans and provides timely warning of a disaster. Smoke detectors continue to complement the overall safety infrastructure as a relevant safety element. The areas of application for 4GENE extend not only to mobility solutions, but also to numerous applications in the private, public, commercial and industrial sectors.