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Eco-Friendly Firefighting Foam is Based on Soap

Yui Sawada, J-Stories, Fukuoka, Japan

Shabondama Soap, a company based in Japan, manufactures an eco-friendly foam extinguishing agent that can be used to fight wildfires. After an experiment showed that the shop can put out a fire quickly and with less water, the company started introducing it to other regions of the world including Indonesia and Thailand.

A Fukuoka company has developed a soap-based firefighting foam to put out forest fires

Shabondama Soap, a Fukuoka-based company that manufactures additive-free soap, has developed a new eco-friendly foam fire extinguishing agent, which it hopes will help fight forest fires around the world.

Foam extinguishing agents allow firefighters to cut down on water use. But because widely used foams, such as those made outside Japan, use synthetic surfactants, they cause problems. For example, their bubbles flow into rivers and linger in the natural environment. And because the foam tends to remain, it can interfere with firefighting activities.

Using lessons learned from the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Shabondama Soap has developed a soap-based foam that can quickly extinguish fires with less water and a softer environmental impact. The company and the local Kitakyushu Fire Department conducted an experiment using a six-story apartment building scheduled for demolition. The fire was put out using only one-seventeenth the amount needed when using water alone. And none of the other floors suffered from water damage or water leakage during the firefighting.

Shabondama Soap says it remained in the red for 17 consecutive years after the soap manufacturer switched its main product line from synthetic detergents to additive-free soap Courtesy: Shabondama Soap

Fire extinguishing agents that contain additive-free soap made from natural oils and fatty acids such as beef tallow, palm oil, and rice bran oil are easier on the environment than agents containing synthetic detergent made from petroleum and natural oils and fats.

Based on this, the company is collaborating on research with industry, academia, and government on products to deal with forest and grass fires. In 2013, it conducted a cooperative study as part of a Japan International Cooperation Agency project to support Indonesia, which was suffering from peat fire outbreaks. In 2015, it began to ship foam fire extinguishers to fight peat fires in Indonesia.

Soaking the ground with water is not an effective way to put out peat fires in the soil, experts say. Courtesy: Shabondama Soap

Currently, the company is preparing for a demonstration test in northern Thailand, where forest fires are causing environmental problems, such as excessive emissions of carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter. The firm’s research and development director, Takayoshi Kawahara, told J-Stories that the company hopes to conduct tests in Thailand by the end of this year.

The challenge for the company as it expands overseas will be to customize products for each region. Extinguishing agents made from additive-free soap are more expensive than competing products, so the price needs to come down. There’s also a need to develop agents with foaming properties that are suited to the local water.

The company expects increasing demand for firefighting foam made from additive-free soap that saves water and is eco-friendly. Although the company is not yet at the stage of making actual plans, Kawahara said that “going forward, we’d like to be able to produce the foam locally in each region.”

The Japanese soap company says that its fire extinguishing agent could contribute to reducing the health hazards caused by peat fire smoke and even the economic losses due to canceled airline flights. Courtesy: Shabondama Soap


Translation and Editing by Tony McNicol

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