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Rarefied air. In short, that is how COWI guarantees fire-proof rooms by means of advanced technology.
The technology is called ‘hypoxic air’. Unlike other fire safety systems that do not activate until a fire has broken out, hypoxic air prevents a flame from burning. A generator lowers the room’s oxygen concentration from a normal 21 per cent to 15 per cent by replacing oxygen with nitrogen.
The air is similar to that in an aircraft cabin at cruising altitude or at the top of a 2,800 metre high mountain. So, it is entirely safe for people to stay in rooms protected by hypoxic air.
“It is revolutionary,” says Geir Jensen, Technical Director, COWI Fire International.
From cold stores to nuclear power plants
These days, COWI supervises installation of its designed hypoxic air system in a vast data centre in Rogaland, Norway, which is located in a former NATO facility, 100 metres into Norwegian bedrock.
But the ground-breaking fire safety system has also attracted international attention. COWI has already implemented the system on several major projects, such as a 200,000 m3 cold store in New Zealand, a 250,000 m3 bank filing room in Dubai in the UAE, and a nuclear power plant in Sweden. But it does not stop here, predicts Stefano Chiti, Specialist in hypoxic air and fire safety.
“The next two to three years will see lots of hypoxic air systems being installed across the globe. Many companies turn to us because they want to replace their regular fire safety system with hypoxic air,” he says.
However, Chiti admits, the system has its limitations. For instance, it is not economical to install the system in places with high people flow such as museums, because the generator uses a lot of energy to keep the low concentration of oxygen stable.
”Laboratories also pose a problem because you cannot use a lighter,” he says.
Recently, COWI was accredited as an inspection body for design, installation and health safety. The accreditation will prove useful when it comes to winning projects outside of Norway.
“Working in Australia or the UAE, we are often required to be certified by an independent body,” explains Jensen, who calls the accreditation a milestone.
In 2005, COWI was among the first companies to look into fire prevention using hypoxic air. And today, we are a world leader.
“We have established a niche,” says Jensen.
"This technology is the future and COWI’s competitive edge is that few know very much about hypoxic air."
By Steffen de VriesPublished 21.05.2013
From blast proof NATO facility to top secure data centre
COWI set up the SAIPHS institute to foster hypoxic air technology