UL has been focusing for more than a century on fire safety, with the goal of helping reduce loss of life and prevent fires. Our efforts are working. In the U.S., deaths by fire have declined dramatically between 1900 and 2000.1 However, with the world evolving rapidly, new challenges are constantly emerging. Today a house fire can become uncontrollable in less than three minutes.2 Modern homes reach flashover eight times faster than homes built 50 years ago.3 The use of photovoltaic systems as a new energy generation source is growing at a rate of 30 percent annually due to governmental incentives and rising traditional energy costs,4 and the lithium-ion battery market is projected to reach $8.6 billion by 2014.5 From detection and reaction to containment and suppression, all these conditions create a complex ecosystem that requires dedicated research, expertise and attention, which is why UL is focusing on developing New Science to help manufacturers, firefighters and homeowners understand, prevent and mitigate the risks involved.
The New Science of Fire Safety has many dimensions. We seek to better understand the collective impact of different aspects of the modern home on the way fires burn. This includes discerning the nature of smoke produced in today's fires — synthetic materials burn very differently from natural materials — as well as the impact of open floor plans and larger homes. Our work in this regard influences safety standards for the products and building materials that go into homes, how homes are planned and built, and how firefighting tactics can be changed to effectively and safely address modern fires.
With the growth in usage of PV panels and lithium-ion batteries, UL has also taken a key role in understanding the risks involved. We have developed New Science to identify the fire and safety hazards of PV panels on home roofs, including creating a way to simulate 30 years of PV panel aging in one year in order to test the risks involved with aged panels. UL's research on lithium-ion batteries includes establishing an innovative way to cause internal short-circuits in order to better understand the volatility of the batteries and to help advance more effective safety standards.
"We're partnering with the Cincinnati College of Medicine, McGill University and University of Illinois to develop and advance our research on the acute health risks and chronic effects caused by exposure to the heavy metals, toxicants and carcinogens in smoke."
- Thomas Chapin, Vice President of Corporate Research and Corporate Fellow