Safe with sound: DARPA’s fire suppression system extinguishes flames with acoustic waves

Leave it up to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to come up with the sickest way to extinguish fires. In the newly release video demoing its “Instant Fire Suppression” program, researchers are able to put out small amounts of flames in an acoustic field using just sound waves emitted from speakers along the side of the tube.

According to the study, flames can be controlled using sound frequency by amping or lowering the acoustic field. DARPA writes on its YouTube page:

“First, the acoustic field increases the air velocity. As the velocity goes up, the flame boundary layer, where combustion occurs, thins, making it easier to disrupt the flame. Second, by disturbing the pool surface, the acoustic field leads to higher fuel vaporization, which widens the flame, but also drops the overall flame temperature. As the same amount of heat is spread over a larger area, combustion is disrupted.”

DARPA has long studied the ability to control fires with sonic waves since 2008, starting the Instant Fire Suppression program to help extinguish fires in small spaces such as an airplane cockpit or ship holds. In fact, the program was inspired by the 2008 incident where a fire aboard the USS George Washington caused $70 million of damage. These instances of fire could be difficult to control and have lethal effects on its passengers aboard (aside from physical death itself) since they are encapsulated in such a tight space.

Another instance of IFS practicality is with extinguishing smaller flames with handheld device used to sweep over the areas of fire. “Put simply, the electric field creates an ionic wind that blows out the flame,” DARPA reports. 

While the videos show the technology working effectively, DARPA is still working to translate the acoustic fire suppression on a larger scale so that perhaps one day, the average house fire could be put out without even a drop of water. In the mean time, DARPA aims to deploy such technology to defense technologies that utilize small engines.

Since it’s the sound wave that extinguishes the fire, IFS does not need to be physically loud to work. If you were planning to run out to buy the noisiest, most powerful surround sound system for your home, be patient! Who knows, if the handheld version of the sound fire extinguisher becomes developed on a more general consumer level, this might be a handier tool than using your shoes to step out burnt food from your oven, or spraying fire extinguisher foam all over the kitchen.

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