Designing fire retardant materials — a lifetime in life-saving research

Fire retardant materials are ubiquitously used across industries, and with an increased focus on sustainability and low toxicity materials, the challenges facing producers are huge. Finding innovative solutions has been Professor Baljinder Kandola life’s work. She reflects on 35 years in the field and how new industry pressures are shaping the forefront of research.

Baljinder Kandola

Professor Baljinder Kandola, a pioneering researcher in the field of fire-retardant materials, has dedicated her career to advancing fire safety and protecting lives through her work in materials chemistry. Her focus has always been on the challenges faced in real world fire situations, and her approach has shifted and responded to the legislative, policy and market pressures that influence high performing fire-retardant materials. For example, currently she is working on the design of materials that will have reduced need for flame retardants through coatings which protect the whole material, that would be sustainable and non-toxic. Today, her particular expertise is in developing high performance materials, flammability and fire retardancy of textiles and structural/semi-structural composites, fire gas analysis, fire retardant mechanisms and associated modelling.

As a senior member of the Institute for Materials Research & Innovation at the University of Bolton, she has made significant contributions to the field of Materials Fire Science, over her 35-year career, both through her research work and teaching future generations of materials scientists.

From early in her materials chemistry training, Baljinder developed a fascination with the field of fire retardants and recognised its immense potential to address real-world challenges. Her PhD study in chemical modification of cellulose for potential fire retardancy stoked her desire to continue in the field, and once she joined the University of Bolton she started working on fire retardant barrier fabrics for the textile industry. Since then, she has expanded her research into structural/semi-structural composites, thermoplastics and other polymers.

Committed to translating her research into practical applications, Baljinder actively collaborates with industry partners to bridge the gap between academia and real-world implementation. She has worked with industry partners such as Vitafoam and Sherwin Williams in the fields of flame retardant, textile and resin manufacture, on projects spanning aerospace to clothing. By actively engaging with industry stakeholders, she ensures that her research has a meaningful and tangible impact on fire safety practices worldwide.

In recent DSTL projects Baljinder tackled the challenge with glass fibre composites that melt when faced with fire, carbon fibres oxidise, rather than burn so persist after fire. If the resin is damaged by heat, the exposed fibres which are electrically conductive may be a hazard to the surrounding environment, Baljinder’s research is therefore focused on protecting not just the resin but also the carbon fibres from high temperatures.

Through her groundbreaking research and years of expertise, Baljinder is an established name in fire retardant materials research. One central thesis drives her on in her research: UK fire safety standards are some of the highest in the world, and we want to continue to meet this high bar not just through research and innovation but also a commitment to the potential to save lives.