Taking the Heat Out of Bushfires with Innovative Technology


Bushfire in Australia in July 2007
(Photo: Frederik Vanrenterghem)

Background

February 7, 2009, will long be remembered by Australians as “Black Saturday” – the day on which almost 200 people perished and thousands were left homeless as a result of bushfires that raged out of control on the outskirts of Melbourne. The Black Saturday tragedy is generally thought to have resulted from record high temperatures (around 46°C) on the day, significantly below-average rainfall over the five previous years and a “stay and defend” stance taken by many rural residents. Hotter summers and a drier year-round climate suggest that conditions likely to increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires will persist in Australia for some time. Australians are now looking to technology to help reduce bushfire impact in rural communities.

By their very nature, bushfires are difficult to predict and control – above and beyond the effects of other variables such as terrain and winds. Extinguishing them is a daunting task. Researchers are devoting a lot of effort to develop technologies for bushfire protection.

Innovation

Sydney-based inventors Marc Hartmann and Derrick Yap took up the challenge of finding bushfire fighting solutions and developed a water-dispersing “bomb” that extinguishes fires by extracting heat from them.

The device is a football-sized, water-filled vessel that can be dropped from a helicopter or airplane. It is fitted with a detonator that triggers on, or slightly before, impact with the ground. This transforms the water into a fine mist that rapidly disperses in the vicinity of the “explosion.” The mist droplets have a considerably larger surface area than the water droplets associated with conventional water-bombing techniques. This enhances their ability to remove vast amounts of energy from the fire front, making the mist bomb an extremely effective fire extinguisher.


A test detonation of a mist-dispersing bomb (Photo: courtesy Marc Hartmann and Derrick Yap)

Environment

Bearing in mind that bushfires generally occur in remote forest areas, Hartmann and Yap designed the bomb from biodegradable materials so that bombing campaigns do not pollute the environment. The combination of mist-generation and eco-friendly materials makes this a unique tool for fighting bushfires.

Partnerships

Technical development is still continuing on certain aspects of the mist bomb, but Hartmann and Yap expect to continue extinguishment trials in order to further develop their technology. They hope that the trials will involve the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre and the Australian government-funded Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) because their approval of the technology would go a long way to bolstering commercialization efforts.

The inventors are also pursuing discussions with a provider of aerial fire suppression services to adopt the mist bomb technology. They have a strong view that the technology is well suited to fighting fires in remote or mountainous areas, and therefore applicable to the terrain of Australia, North America and Europe.


An illustration of Hartmann and Yap’s water-filled bomb that can be aerially delivered to extinguish bushfire (as submitted in PCT application PCT/AU2008/000529, PATENTSCOPE® search)

Patents

The protection of the invention is important not only for recognition and business purposes but also for quality control and associated safety concerns. Soon after developing the “mist bomb”, Hartmann and Yap contacted Griffith Hack, one of Australia's leading Intellectual Property (IP) law firms, for protecting their invention.  With the assistance of Griffith Hack patent attorneys, the inventors filed a national patent application with IP Australia and a subsequent PCT ("Patent Cooperation Treaty") application in 2008. A national application based on those prior applications was also filed at the United States Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO).

Commercialization

Hartmann and Yap realized that an invention with such immense potential to tackle bushfires would be of little value if it could not be put into use. To ensure proper commercialization and export of their technology, the inventors established a company under the name of Wildfire Suppression P/L. Wildfire Suppression provides solutions for both small and large scale forest fire control technology.

Business Results

The innovative technology developed by Hartmann and Yap is likely to save thousands of human, animal and plant lives in bushfire-prone areas in Australia and elsewhere. Safety comprises a paramount factor in the design of their wildfire suppression system, which boosts the confidence of the operators and increases the chances of success. Their innovation is also expected to motivate individuals, companies and research organizations to follow through on their ideas for innovative bushfire protection technologies.

Entrepreneurship to Address a Social Problem

Hartmann and Yap put their entrepreneurial spirit towards addressing a frequently-occurring disaster in Australia. By protecting their invention, they ensure that a certain quality can be maintained and have the potential to reap financial benefits from their innovation.