SafeFlame: Making Fire From Water

It’s hard to believe but European researchers developed a technology which allows for the creation of welding torch powered only by water. This new torch is cheaper and considerably safer than any existing welding technology and is also more environmentally friendly – producing only water as a byproduct.

Developed as a collaborative project of the European Union, SafeFlame is a next generation flame brazing, cutting and welding technology. The only thing required for the operation of the SafeFlame is water and electrical input.
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The team which developedSafeFlame described the technology and its benefits by using the following three points:
  1. Inside the SafeFlam, oxygen and hydrogen are generated separately. The SafeFlame unit controls their mixture in order to deliver a precise stoichiometric, oxidising or reducing flame.
  2. The operator can control the length of the flame and the heat flux instantaneously by adjusting the power input to the electrolyser stack – this provides a more flexible and user friendly solution than existing oxy-acetylene and gas-air brazing.
  3. SafeFlame eliminates the need for stored gases, removing hazardous materials from the working environment and improving portability.
TheSafeFlame split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases which are fed into a torch where a flame is produced. This type of technology called electrolyzering is actually not new, however traditionally, it has been limited by the high costs of membranes and of catalysts requiring platinum or other precious metals in order to operate.
SafeFlame in actionThe teams working on the SafeFlame set out to create the first real industrial quality affordable electrolyzer unit. They allocated a full group of chemists to work on creating new formulations of membranse, to increase in the performance of the electrolyzer. They also looked into new catalysts, trying to reduce the amount of expensive platinum and finding other, cheaper materials that can be used in the cells.
Since hydrogen and oxygen are recombined only at the tip of the torch, the resulting flame is cooler and much easier to work with than commonly used mixtures of oxygen and propane (or acetylene). Also importantly, the glare from the flame is a far less forceful and less stressful on the operator’s eyes (only simple transparent glasses are required).
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According to Nick Ludford, a materials scientist with TWI, “compared to acetylene gas, it is  anticipated that the cost of the gas in the new unit would be at least 20 times cheaper than acetylene – because of the absence of expenses like gas storage, insurance, and transport”.
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SafeFlame is undergoing testing and will be commercialized upon their completion.
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You can find more information about the technology on the dedicated SafeFlame site.
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Video demonstrating SafeFlame

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About the author

Iddo Genuth

Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.

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