By Thad Ayers
© Copyright 2013, Tulsa Business and Legal News, Tulsa, OK
Most airline travelers carry a potentially dangerous item in either their pockets, their carry-on, their stow-away bag, or in all three. These items — lithium batteries — are in laptops, cellphones and a myriad of other devices used to connect people with their jobs and lives.
Although they keep electronics running for hours on end, lithium batteries also hold the capability of spontaneously igniting on airlines.
On Monday in Boston a fire broke out in the underbelly of a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Logan International Airport shortly after arriving from Tokyo. The blaze was found when smoke began coming from a battery compartment, according to the Boston Globe.
Luckily the plane was on the ground, fire crews were able to extinguish the blaze and 173 passengers and 11 crew members were unaffected, the paper reported.
SpectrumFX LLC CEO Kent Faith said if the fire happened while in the air, passengers and the crew would really have only one option.
“If you’re a passenger on an airplane and your laptop catches fire, what we have on the airplane right now is Halon,” he said. “Well Halon is toxic, it depletes the ozone. It’s being outlawed. It’s due to be outlawed airplanes with cargo by 2016 worldwide.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 31 more than a billion rechargeable batteries are produced globally. On New Year’s Day the International Civil Aviation Organization enacted regulations that require changes in shipping practices when transporting the useful, but explosive, lithium batteries.
Kent’s company, which he and his son Ross Faith run from their Tulsa offices, distributes an EPA qualified water-based, non-toxic and biodegradable product that is designed to put out such battery fires.
Using a solution called Firebane — that smells like vinegar, feels like cooking oil and comes in a plastic squirt bottle — SpectrumFX has aimed to fill a niche in airline fire protection.
The product is approved to put out Class A water-soluble fires, Class B fuel fires and Class D molten metal fires.
“We cool the fire rather than depriving the fire of oxygen,” said Kent, an international airline pilot for more than 20 years with American Airlines.
Since it came into business in May of 2012, SpectrumFX has done its share of growing. It won a $20,000 cash award at the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup in 2012, has about 12 clients — mostly internationally — and will be heading to Atlantic City, N.J., at the end of this month to present the product before the Federal Aviation Administration and each U.S. airline’s individual FAA representatives.
“We don’t know of anybody else that’s doing it,” Kent said.
In addition to its deals, the product already has agreements with one Tulsa-based private airline and one Hong Kong-based international carrier for SpectrumFX’s LifeKit to be in its planes.
The FAA has been looking to replace Halon, which depletes the ozone for many years. In a February 2012 report from the administration’s International Systems Fire Protection Working Group, the FAA has been researching Halon replacements for more than 20 years.
SpectrumFX grew out of Global Safety Labs, based in Tulsa. Kent said the product is made locally, with most of the ingredients coming from Oklahoma and surrounding Midwest states.
Although Kent and Ross’ product may be poised to make changes in aviation, both are looking to diversify and develop the product for usage in auto racing, the oil industry and to suppress data center fires.
Ross said the company is also looking at developing into protective components for airplane storage.
“The product is intended to combat fires from personal electronic devices. Laptop batteries, personal electronic devices, lithium batteries,” Ross said. “We do have intentions of suppressing the cargo compartment, and we’re working on partnerships.”