A while back, fluorinated foam was considered the most effective means of putting out oil and fuel fires. But research at the turn of the millennium produced new findings and, with the general growth of environmental awareness, fluorinated foam came under increased scrutiny. According to scientists, poly- and perfluorinated compounds are difficult or impossible to break down. For the manufacturers of extinguishing agents like these, developing alternative solutions became a new yet simultaneously familiar challenge.

The Hamburg-based "Chemical Preparations Factory from Dr. Richard Sthamer" can look back on almost 100 years of experience in researching, developing and producing foam-based extinguishers . The company was originally founded in 1886 by the chemist of the same name to manufacture chemical and pharmaceutical products. Today it is managed in the fourth generation by Oswald Sthamer and Ingeborg Grabow. The company will be represented in Hall 13 (stand A28) at INTERSCHUTZ 2020.

"The history of fire extinguishing foam production began in the 1930s, with protein foaming agents made from protein carriers produced from animal hooves and horns," reports Oswald Sthamer. "This was also our entry into the production sector, where we by now have attained global significance. Foam-based extinguishers have been our main line of business ever since."

Back then, fluorine was far from being a topic of discussion. "They didn't know the impact at that time at all," says the current CEO. This did not change until the 1960s, when the American company 3M became the first manufacturer to develop an A3F foaming agent. "So now it’s something like 'back to the roots'." Even if the efficacy of using aqueous film-forming, so-called AFFF or A3, extinguishing agents (AFFF stands for Aqueous Film Forming Foam) is still undisputed, the use of new biodegradable raw materials is now being vigorously pursued. "Sometimes you have to make compromises," says Oswald Sthamer. "An A3F foaming agent was and is practically an all-rounder. But legislation is moving towards a complete phase-out of the technology in the 2020s. This is also the German Environment Agency’s plan."

Accordingly, providers are intensively seeking alternatives for large, high-risk industrial fires. "All of our company's products are developed in the company’s own laboratory using state-of-the-art analysis and developed until they are ready for production," says the company founder’s great grandson. "By intensively paying attention to the market, we implement the demand for new or modified products in the shortest possible time in constant dialog our customers and suppliers, as well as with research institutes."

At INTERSCHUTZ, the company will be providing an overview of its latest developments. "Among other things, we plan to present a new product range of fully biodegradable, high-performance fire-extinguishing foam. This includes both alcohol-resistant and non-alcohol-resistant products," explains Oswald Sthamer. "We’ll be presenting both protein and synthetic foaming agents. We’ll also be showing special extinguishing agents, for example for grease fires and extinguishing agents for the fire extinguisher industry as well as for special extinguishing systems."

The roughly 50 Sthamer employees benefit from the company’s many years of expertise while performing their jobs in the Billbrook district of Hamburg, located amid rivers and canals just a stone’s throw away from the mighty Elbe. "Whether you’re talking about multi-grade foaming agents, which originated in the 1950s, or synthetically based, alcohol-resistant foaming agents – we already patented this stuff back in the mid-1950s," explains the company boss. But the company continues to stay on the ball: In 2016, Sthamer became the world’s first manufacturer to receive approval for its foam-based extinguishing agents from VdS – the umbrella organization of the German insurance industry. VdS approval meets particularly high quality standards and is required by many insurance companies in order to insure stationary fire extinguishing systems.