Antimony oxide by itself is not a fire retardant, and the halogens by themselves, mainly bromine and chlorine, are weak fire retardants. However, when they are combined they become synergistic and are the most effective and most widely used flame retardant system for plastics. Usually three to four parts of halogenated flame retardants are used to one part of antimony oxide on a weight basis. Using more than the 4:1 ratio offers little additional protection. The stoichiometric ratio of chlorine to antimony in antimony trichloride is 3:1. Formulations in different applications will depend on thermal stability, cost, tinting strength, Change in physical properties, smoke considerations, streaking, blend ability, and the flame retardant specification.
Two mechanisms exist in the synergistic system. First is the “free radical capture” process that takes place in the vapor phase. On combustion at a temperature of over 6000 F, the halogen forms hydrochloric or hydrobromic acid that reacts with the antimony oxide to form antimony trichloride, antimony oxychloride, antimony tribromide, or antimony oxybromide. The flame retarding action takes place in the vapor stage above the burning material. It is thought that “free radicals propagate” the flame. But, the antimony trihalides or antimony oxyhalides act as “free radical traps”, and take up free radicals. They inhibit ignition and pyrolysis in the solid, liquid, and vapor phases.
A second process occurs in a solid phase and is the “char process”. The antimony oxide promotes the formation of “char” (essentially carbon) on the substrate which reduces volatile gas formation. The barrier between the substrate and the vapor phase reduces the available oxygen to the underlying substrate. The barrier effect is obtained by almost any inert additive. In plastics there is a cross linking with antimony to produce a more stable thermoset polymer. Additionally in the solid phase, the formation of SbCl3 and SbOCl acts as a dehydrating agent that increases charring. Sometimes phosphorous compounds (TCP), magnesium oxide, alumina trihydrate, molybdic oxide, zinc borate, or zinc oxide are used in combination or in place of antimony oxide to reduce costs, to increase char formation, or to reduce smoke. However, the substitution of the other retardants greatly reduces the flame retardance normally rendered by antimony oxide. Testing of the amounts of the halogen and antimony oxide in each formulation is necessary to optimize the flame retardance and lower costs. Alumina trihydrate is not synergistic with halogenated flame retardants. It functions as a flame retardant by the release of its water of hydration and cannot be used in high temperature processes. Zinc borate, molybdic oxide, zinc oxide, and magnesium oxide can be used in conjunction with antimony oxide to augment char formation and decrease smoke. Replacement of the antimony oxide to meet a smoke requirement compromises the flame retardance.
A relationship exists between particle size and tinting strength. If the particles are very fine (less than 300 nanometers) they are below the visual range and there is no tint strength. However, within the visual range, the smaller the particle size, the higher the tint strength. Or conversely, the larger the particle size, the lower the tint strength.
TEST METHODS FOR FLAME RETARDANCY
There are more than 100 test methods for the determination of the flame retardance of materials. Each application has its own method. Some of the more popular test methods are as follows:
|UL||UL-94||Vertical Burn Rate||Plastics|
|ASTM||ASTM-D-635||Horizontal Burn Rate||Rigid Plastics|
|ASTM||ASTM-E-162||Surface Flammability||Sheet laminates, fabrics, tiles, liquids, films|
|ASTM||ASTM-E-84||Surface Burning Characteristics||Carpeting, building materials|
|ASTM||ASTM-D-1692||Flammability plastic foams and sheeting||Plastic foams and sheeting|
|ASTM||ASTM-D-2863||Oxygen Index (O.I.) flammability||Plastics, textiles, paper etc.|
|DOT||DOT 302MVSS||To establish 4 inch per minute burn rate||Plastics in motor vehicles|
|FAA||Par. 25.853||FAA regulations for compartment interiors||Compartment interior plastics|
|NBS||Aminco smoke density chamber||All materials|
|NBS||Federal Standard 372||Flooring radiant panel||Carpeting|
|Surface Flammability Carpets and Rugs||Carpets and rugs|
|DOC||DOC FF-4-72||Flammability of mattresses||Mattresses|
|CS||CS-191-53||Flammability of clothing and textiles||Fabrics|
|CPAI||CPAI-84||Spec. for camping tents||Fabrics|
|TAPPI||TAPPI-461-M-48||Flammability of paper||Paper|