School of Civil Engineering

The University of Queensland operates a state-of-the-art fire laboratory in the heart of the University’s St Lucia Campus.  The equipment in the laboratory allows testing – from the very small-scale material compositions to full-scale structural fire testing.

Our facilities help our researchers and commercial partners develop a better understand their materials or assemblies. Consequently, although much of the laboratory equipment is capable of performing the standard tests required for regulatory compliance, we do not issue standard testing certificates.  We prefer to help develop products that deliver enhanced performance, rather than products that simply pass the test.

If you are interested in identifying the fire performance of a particular material or product, UQ Fire will be able to help you. For further information, contact us at fire-staff@civil.uq.edu.au.

The Lab

The Fire Lab is located in the Frank White Annex and is comprised of a series of spaces that each house state of the art equipment. There is sufficient space in the lab to allow multiple pieces of equipment and tests to run simultaneously – from small scale testing to larger scale calorimetry.

There are several extraction hoods. The demonstration hood allows medium scale experiments and classes to be conducted for students and visitors. The “flashover” box and “fire tornado” are particularly popular amongst our visitors.

The larger scale hood can accommodate a fire up to 2MW in size (roughly equivalent to a sofa fire). The exhaust for the large hood is equipped with a calorimetry system to allow the fire size to be measured as a function of time. This permits larger scale testing of composite materials to be conducted to determine their heat release rate.

iCone Calorimeter

The cone calorimeter (iCone) allows the behaviour of samples of material to be analysed under a range of heat fluxes. Analysis of the combustion gases allows a charaterisation of the heat release rate of the material. Simultaneous measurement of mass loss and smoke production is also conducted.

The Cone Calorimeter is one of the most extensively used bench scale pieces of equipment in fire testing as, although it has been developed for standardised testing, it can be used to explore a wide range of material behaviours. It is based on the principle of oxygen consumption calorimetry and collects and measures the combustion products of sample materials.

It is used to determine the response of materials exposed to controlled levels of radiant heating, supplied by a conical radiant electric heater. It can test a range of combustible materials such as furniture upholstery, timber, and plastics; it can also be used to test non-combustible products to analyse their reaction to imposed heat flux.

Testing in the Cone Calorimeter can provide results for:

  • Sample heat release
  • Critical heat flux
  • Time to ignition of the specimen
  • Effective heat of combustion
  • Smoke production

The iCone has been standardised in accordance with ISO 5660, and can run standard tests as per AS/NZS 3837.

  • iCone
  • iCone

Fire Propagation Apparatus

The Fire Propagation Apparatus (FPA) is used to evaluate the flammability of materials and products; however, unlike the cone calorimeter, the heat is supplied by infrared heating lamps. The FPA also provides control over the oxygen environment around the sample; it is designed to obtain the transient response of such materials subject to prescribed heat fluxes in low oxygen or high oxygen environments.

The instrument can be used to determine “Fire Propagation Index” and the same parameters that can be obtained using the cone calorimeter. The FPA is specially designed for testing semiconductor fabrication materials, underground mine belts and cables.

The FPA was developed by FTT and FM global and has been standardised in accordance ISO 12136.

  • Fire Propagation Apparatus
  • Fire Propagation Apparatus

Mass Loss Calorimeter

This instrument allows material samples to be heated in a highly controlled manner while simultaneously measuring the mass loss of a sample. Consequently, it is possible to understand how material degradation occurs and provides a means for assessing materials, products, or assemblies, for mass loss, critical heat flux and time to ignition.

The mass loss calorimeter is often used as a precursor to cone calorimeter testing.

Large Scale Heat Release Analyser

The fire lab is equipped with a large-scale extractor hood. This device uses oxygen consumption calorimetry to calculate the heat release rate of larger scale products or assemblies. The hood is ideal for characterising the fire behaviour of large objects that are composed of many different materials. For example – future, wall materials, small room configurations or even a Christmas tree!

The analyser samples the gases extracted by a large exhaust system capable of accommodating a 2MW fire.

  • Large Scale Heat Release Analyser
  • Large Scale Heat Release Analyser

Transient Plane Source

The Transient Plane Source (TPS) measures thermal conductivity, specific heat and diffusivity of solid and liquid materials from building materials to textiles products. The measurement can be performed in a wide range of temperatures from 0°C Celsius to 1000°C.

The transient plane source is a highly precise measurement device that can be used to derive the fundamental material properties required for thermal modelling of materials.

  • Transient Plane Source
  • Transient Plane Source
  • Transient Plane Source

Muffle Furnace

The fire lab has two muffle furnaces; this is a high-temperature furnace capable of heating samples to 1200°C.  These are typically used to determine the proportion of a sample is non-combustible and non-volatile (i.e., ash). Alternatively, it can be used to expose samples to a temperature or a specific period of time to allow subsequent characterisation of physical changes or mechanical properties.

  • Muffle Furnace
  • Muffle Furnace

Thermo-gravimetric Analysis and Differential Scanning Calorimetry (STA6000)

The thermo-gravimetric analysis (TGA) is a method of thermal analysis in which changes in physical and chemical properties of materials are measured as a function of increasing temperature. TGA is commonly used to determine selected characteristics of materials that exhibit either mass loss or gain due to decomposition, oxidation, or loss of volatiles (such as moisture). Common applications of TGA are: materials characterization through analysis of characteristic decomposition patterns, studies of degradation mechanisms and reaction kinetics, determination of organic content in a sample, and determination of inorganic (e.g. ash) content in a sample, which may be useful for corroborating predicted material structures or simply used as a chemical analysis.

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is also a thermoanalytical technique in which the difference in the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a sample and reference is measured as a function of temperature. Both the sample and reference are maintained at nearly the same temperature throughout the experiment. The DSC allows precise measurements of heat capacity and can be also used for calculation of enthalpies of chemical reactions.

STA6000

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) is a gas analysis method that allows analysis of gases with respect to their composition.  The analyser passes mid-infrared wavelength radiation through gas samples and measures the absorption. Quantification of gases is performed with respect to specific peaks on the IR absorption spectrum and correlated with a known database of chemical compositions.

The FTIR is connected by a heated transfer line to the Simultaneous Thermal Analysis instrument (STA6000). The testing procedure typically requires a small sample of material to be gradually heated in the STA. The gasses released by the samples are then collected and passed through the FTIR analyser. This allows the key parameters of the material to be quantified and the degradation of a material with temperature to be understood.

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy

Integrating Sphere

The integrating sphere is a device that coupled with the FTIR allows determining optical properties of materials such as absorptivity, reflectivity, and transmissivity at a different wavelength. The beam of the FTIR passes mid-infrared wavelength radiation through the integrating sphere with a sample attached to it. Then, radiation reflected by and transmitted through the tested material is quantified and optical properties determined. The integrating sphere can be used with a DTGS or an MCT detector, providing different range of accuracy and sensitivity.

Optical properties of materials in the mid-infrared are key to develop accurate heat transfer and pyrolysis models for materials under conditions of severe heat exposure from fires. The use of this device allows to significantly decrease the uncertainty in fire testing, especially when using radiant devices such as the Cone Calorimeter, the Fire Propagation Apparatus, or the modular array of radiant panels.

Integrating Sphere connected to FTIR

Integrating Sphere

The integrating sphere is a device that coupled with the FTIR allows determining optical properties of materials such as absorptivity, reflectivity, and transmissivity at a different wavelength. The beam of the FTIR passes mid-infrared wavelength radiation through the integrating sphere with a sample attached to it. Then, radiation reflected by and transmitted through the tested material is quantified and optical properties determined. The integrating sphere can be used with a DTGS or an MCT detector, providing different range of accuracy and sensitivity.

Optical properties of materials in the mid-infrared are key to develop accurate heat transfer and pyrolysis models for materials under conditions of severe heat exposure from fires. The use of this device allows to significantly decrease the uncertainty in fire testing, especially when using radiant devices such as the Cone Calorimeter, the Fire Propagation Apparatus, or the modular array of radiant panels.

Integrating Sphere connected to FTIR

Smouldering Reactor

Self-sustaining smouldering reactors at different scales are utilized to treat waste under a myriad of conditions. The reactors have a heating element to start the ignition and an air diffuser to ensure uniformity in the airflow. A series of thermocuoples connected to a data logger and a PC gives information about the process. Gas samples can be collected, after condensation of water and other liquid products, for further analysis.

These systems have been used for the treatment of human faeces, agricultural waste, biomass, wastewater sludge, biosolids, green waste and soil remediation.

  • Lab-scale reactor
  • Pilot-scale reactor

Bench-Scale H-TRIS

The novel test method uses an array of high-performance radiant panels and it is used for testing the behaviour of materials at elevated temperature and simulating thermal conditions during a fire or a fire resistance test. The test setup is widely known as Heat-Transfer Rate Inducing System (H-TRIS) and it can reproduce a medium range of thermal exposures (up to 70 kW/m2). It is denoted as “Bench-Scale H-TRIS”.

The system is composed of a single high-performance radiant heater mounted on a frame, creating a 355 x 355 mm2 radiant source of heat.

The test setup allows for the direct and independent control of the thermal boundary conditions imposed on the target surface of test samples. This is possible by controlling the relative position between the exposed surface of the test sample and the array of high-performance radiant heaters coupled with a computer-controlled mechanical linear motion system. Moreover, the test method enables the visual inspection of the test samples during fire testing.

This test method has been used for testing different materials, such as structural insulating panels and structural steel protected by intumescent coatings.

  • Lab-scale reactor
  • Pilot-scale reactor

Large-Scale H-TRIS

The novel test method uses an array of high-performance radiant panels and it is used for testing the behaviour of materials at elevated temperature and simulating thermal conditions during a fire or a fire resistance test. The test setup is widely known as Heat-Transfer Rate Inducing System (H-TRIS) and it can reproduce a wide range of thermal exposures (up to 200 kW/m2). It is denoted as “Large-Scale H-TRIS”.

The system is composed of sixteen high-performance radiant heaters mounted on a frame, creating a 600 x 800 mm2 radiant source of heat. Each radiant heater has a dimension of 150 x 200 mm2 and it is fired by a natural gas – air mixture.

The test setup allows for the direct and independent control of the thermal boundary conditions imposed on the target surface of test samples. This is possible by controlling the relative position between the exposed surface of the test sample and the array of high-performance radiant heaters coupled with a computer-controlled mechanical linear motion system. Moreover, the test method enables the visual inspection of the test samples during fire testing.

This test method has been used for testing different materials, such as concrete and timber.

  • Lab-scale reactor
  • Pilot-scale reactor

Bomb Calorimeter

The Bomb Calorimeter Parr 1341, operating at constant volume, is used to determine the heat of combustion of solid or liquid samples. For a more precise and rapid determination, the Bomb is connected to a Parr 6772 calorimetric thermometer. This instrument is used mainly in our waste treatment projects; however, it has also application in the fire safety and materials fields.

Bomb Calorimeter

Environmental Chamber

The environmental chamber is a device that allows conditioning test samples to a specific temperature and relative humidity conditions. Sample conditioning is important when evaluating the fire behaviour of materials whose properties may be affected by ambient conditions. Examples of these type materials include wood, concrete, and fabrics. Wood is a hygroscopic material, i.e. it has the ability to adsorb or desorbi water depending on the environment it is in. If wood is exposed to humid environments the amount of water stored in the sample increases resulting in a higher equilibrium moisture content (EMC). On the other hand, if wood is exposed to dry environments, it will release water resulting in a decreased in the EMC.

Temperature and relative humidity variations can result in changes to the EMC, thermal properties, etc., which in turn affect the solid heating and thermal decomposition. Controlling temperature and relative humidity allows researchers to 1) eliminate the influence of ambient conditions during fire testing and 2) parametrise environmental conditions to identify how the fire behaviour of materials changes in response to environmental conditions.

Our environmental chamber allows specification of temperature, relative humidity, or a combination of both. This device is intended for conditioning small scale samples in environments whose temperature ranges between 10-90oC, and relative humidity ranging from 10% to 90%.

Enviornmental chamber

Modular Radiant Burner Array

This system is a medium-to-large scale testing device comprised of a modular array of radiant burners designed by GoGaS (Dortmund, Germany). It is used for structural fire and fire testing and (unlike furnace testing) offers a very high level of control in terms of radiant flux on the surface of a sample.

The radiant burner array consists of four sets of 2x2 burners (i.e. 16 single burners) and can be used to replicate one to four-sided heating regimes. The burners are powered by natural gas that is premixed with air directly before the porous surface of the burners. Once ignited, the premixed flame heats up the highly porous medium and radiates a consistent thermal load.  Heat fluxes up to 150 kW/m2 are possible with the system – making it ideal for any fire research application.

The system is movable and configurable to any test set-up and can be used in conjunction with large-scale loading actuators in the structures lab. Structural fire tests of steel, concrete, and other non-combustible material can be carried out in the structures lab. Combustible material tests can be completed in the fire lab under one of the many extraction hoods.

  • Modular Radiant Burner Array
  • Modular Radiant Burner Array
  • Modular Radiant Burner Array