Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) is making a strategic investment in FireRein Inc., a small firm that has been introducing Canada’s fire-fighting community to Eco-Gel, a new, environmentally benign fire-suppression water additive made entirely from food-grade constituents.

BIC, based in Sarnia, Ont., is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the commercialization of sustainable chemical innovations, especially those featuring biological feedstocks. According to Executive Director Sandy Marshall, FireRein’s Eco-Gel is an outstanding example of clean, green technology.

FireRein, based in the eastern Ontario centre of Napanee, has developed an commercially viable fire-fighting gel made entirely from food grade materials.

FireRein, based in the eastern Ontario centre of Napanee, has developed an commercially viable fire-fighting gel made entirely from food grade materials. Photo credit: FireRein

“For us it was a typical fit within our area of sustainable chemistry,” he says, noting that the formulation of Eco-Gel contrasts with the more toxic make-up of standard agents used to put out fires. These consist primarily of surfactants that lower the surface tension of water in order to promote wetting and saturation of a burning structure or flammable liquid. Because they have to be sprayed liberally in the open air, these hydrocarbon-based formulations can easily contaminate surrounding soil and water, as well as directly threaten the health of individuals who are regularly exposed to them.

Resendes emphasizes that Eco-Gel is made up of materials that are essentially edible. “We had a very limited palette to work from,” he says, recalling that the initial research drew on ingredients employed by the food industry to keep products fresh on a store shelf. “We wanted to make sure that whatever we did wasn’t going to compromise one of our primary objectives, which was to make this 100% bio-based.”

Eco-Gel can be stored indefinitely in a drum, where there is just enough emulsification to form an oil seal on top so that water does not prematurely mix with it. Approval for public use came last year from the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as safety certification from Underwriters Laboratory Canada.

Marshall adds that this is the first time BIC has targeted a fire-fighting product but added that the move complements a longstanding relationship with Lambton College, which is home to the Fire and Public Safety Centre of Excellence. The facility provides a wide range of training for industrial and municipal firefighters and could provide an attractive venue to showcase the virtues of Eco-Gel.

“There are some very practical advantages that come with working with BIC,” says FireRein President and CEO Rui Resendes. He points to the Sarnia area as a major hub for chemical plants that may be hard-pressed to balance the demands of fire safety against the risks of environmental contamination from traditional fire-fighting agents.

“Our technology is ideally suited for those types of industrial installations where they need to closely monitor what chemicals come on to their site, what chemicals are used on their site, and ultimately what chemicals will escape their site through water or air emissions,” he says. “The existing fire-fighting technologies, the water additives that are used, represent a challenge.”

In contrast, Eco-Gel contains no controlled substances at all, which provides users with the luxury of using it as often as they wish for training purposes as well as in the case of emergency. “It offers them a highly effective fire-fighting tool that they can use confidently on their site without worrying what it may do to their emission limits,” concludes Resendes.