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Experts have invented a spray-on gel that can encapsulate fire retardants—substances that can slow or stop the spread of fire.
The project was led by Stanford professor Eric Appel, who had previously developed gels used to carry medicine into the human body. Appel’s team collaborated with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to use the same material in fighting California’s disastrous wildfires.
Currently, putting out wildfires involves dropping fire retardants from a plane, which is a reactive firefighting method. The fire retardants are easily blown away or washed off, so they cannot be used for preventive measures.
In contrast, the gel developed by Appel’s team can withstand wind or rain, allowing it to stick to surfaces for an extended period of time. The substance works by spraying it onto the vegetation of fire-prone areas. Once applied, the gel acts as a protective cover that prevents a wildfire from spreading.
The material’s longevity fits California’s needs in cases of wildfires. The state’s biggest fires typically happen in the fall before the rainy days, and strong winds during this time cause wildfires to spread rapidly. Because of this, the gel can be applied in the summer to prepare for months when big fires are expected. It can last until the heavy rains arrive, when the ground and vegetation are expected to be wet and naturally resistant to fire. Although the gel will eventually be washed off by the rain, there will be no adverse effect on the environment.
Because Appel’s team plans to make the gel commercially available, the Stanford professor has founded a startup that can make this plan possible. He and his team envision that the gel will be useful as the effects of climate change persist.