Fire Suppression Tools Face Green Scrutiny

Vendors of data center fire suppression products are taking steps to reassure customers of their long-term environmental safety.

Rich Miller

October 16, 2007

3 Min Read
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Vendors of data center fire suppression products are taking steps to reassure customers of their long-term environmental safety. The moves reflect the growing importance of the environmental profile of data center products, as well as past problems with a popular data center fire prevention technology.

DuPont Fire Extinguishants and Fike announced Monday that they would offer a warranty for buyers of Fike fire suppression systems using DuPont's FE-227 or FE-25 products. The warranty guarantees that if the products are restricted from use for fire suppression within 20 years due to changing environmental regulatory measures, DuPont and Fike will either replace the agent or refund the purchase price. The companies emphasized that FE-227 and FE-25 are safe and do not deplete the ozone layer, but said they wanted to allay any concerns about future regulation.

"DuPont and Fike developed this sustainability warranty to give our customers peace of mind," said Greg Rubin, global business manager, DuPont Fluorochemicals. "Keeping track of continually changing environmental regulations can be a source of concern and confusion for customers. But our stewardship process requires that we closely evaluate products from the development phase through end of product life to ensure they are responsibly managed throughout their life cycle."

Concerns about the environmental impact of data center fire protection products date to the historic use of Halon gas, which was effective in fire suppression but depleted the ozone layer. Halon production was ended by the Montreal Protocol of 1987, and it hasn't been produced in the U.S. since 1994, according to Bill Howerton, Director of System Sales at Fike.

"There’s still a lot of Halon out there (in legacy systems)," Howerton said during a presentation last month at Data Center World. "There’s no phase-out for Halon 1301; there’s just no new product."

Many data center operators prefer gas-based fire prevention systems to sprinkler systems using water, which could damage equipment in the event of a leak. Others use water in a "pre-action" system in which water fills the sprinkler pipes only upon an alarm.

In 2001 the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) developed a standard for clean agents – electrically non-conductive gases that don’t leave a residue - for use in data center fire suppression. Most are hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), which lack the ozone-depleting characteristics of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

The most popular of these is FE-227, also known as HFC 227 or FM200, which Howerton called "the most widely used clean agent in the world. When Halon 1301 was identified as an ozone depleter, HFC227ea emerged as the replacement." FE-25, also known as HFC-125 or Ecaro-25, is among the other NFPA-approved clean agents, along with HFC-236fa (FE-36) and inert gases such as Argonite, Inergen and Novec 1230.

Howerton said all the NFPA-approved clean agents meet standards for The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program administered by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, and that there are no international standards than ban HFCs, including the Kyoto Protocol.

"This announcement demonstrates our confidence that HFCs will continue to be used in fire suppression for many years because they are environmentally acceptable," said Jim Morgan, director of marketing for Fike.

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