Fighting fire the space way

23 February 2018

Start-up company ExxFire from ESA Business Incubation Centre Noordwijk has turned space technology into a efficient fire suppression solution. A Japanese paint manufacturer and a Swedish truck manufacturer have already selected ExxFire for their Dutch production facilities.

The system is based on the use of ‘cool-gas generators’ to fighting fires in closed volumes in sensitive locations, like serverracks in data centres and switching cabinets or plc’s in production facilities etc. In space the cool-gas generator technology has been used by ESA to steer their Proba-2 satellite. On Earth, it is now fighting fires without harming the environment.

Fire suppression in cabinet

“Gas extinguishers are used wherever you don’t want any consequential damage, so you can’t use water to put out fires,” explains Edwin Verver of ExxFire BV.

The extinguishers contain typical nitrogen gas and when emitted it lowers the oxygen level and suffocates the flames. But while today’s high-pressure cylinders require a great deal of maintenance, like regular control and refilling at regular intervals, ExxFire’s cool-gas generator stores the gas in a solid form in unpressurised cylinders which require no maintenance at all.

“While gas released from high pressure into a low-pressure volume becomes very cold, which could destroy sensitive electronics, for example, the ExxFire cool-gas generators avoid that. The nitrogen gas from ExxFire is released at room temperature. On top of this, the completely inert nitrogen is environmental friendly.”

ESA BIC spin-off of a game changer space technology

Proba-2 technology for fire suppression

ExxFire was hosted at ESA Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC) Noordwijk in the Netherlands from 2011 to 2013 where they received both technical and business support to grow their idea into a viable business.

Since then the company has grown to 12 people with an assembly line for the three current ExxFire products to protect business critical cabinets and server racks up to 4,5m3 against fire.

Their smart aspiration detection combined with pressureless stored nitrogen makes the ExxFire products popular among fire professionals.

Even if being named “a game changer” by many experts it has taken several years to convince larger reputable companies like Siemens, Legrand, Fike and Nohmi Bosai to start working with the small Dutch start-up. Introducing a new technology in a highly-regulated market like the fire business requires many demonstrations, tests and certifications before the first companies decided to protect their business-critical cabinets with this revolutionary “space technology”.

Fire suppression units

Today ExxFire is represented in over 20 countries by 14 distributors with the first reference installations in place. A large truck manufacturer in The Netherlands has installed 8 systems and 10 more will follow. A Japanese paint manufacturer is using ExxFire to protect their production line. Also ESA's satellite control centre ESOC has brought three systems for their facility in Darmstadt, Germany, soon to be installed.

In order to meet the market demand ExxFire is now scaling up its production facilities. ExxFire is working together with AkzoNobel in Deventer to set up their own larger production facility at the new Deventer Open Innovation Center, a location created to fulfill the needs of chemical start-up companies. ExxFire production facility is the first to be hosted. However the company plan to have two production locations to reach maximum efficiency and limit the dependency on one supplier.

Disruptive and very exciting technology

ExxFire´s Harm Botter

Following the presentation by ExxFire founder and CEO Harm Botter at the “From Comets to Start-ups – Building Europe's SpaceTech Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” event at Stanford University in 2016, lecturer Burton Lee from European Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Stanford Engineering said “Because of the tremendous disruption and how they storage the gas – it is a solid stage storage – you can also bring fire suppression systems into residential applications, into automobiles, into personal boating for example sailboats.

"It brings fire suppression which traditionally has been limited to big industrial facilities down to the personal consumer level.

“That is really radical and that is very disruptive which is why I think this is very exciting technology and company.”

Read also about ExxFire here.

ESA Technoloigy Transfer Initiative and its Business Incubation Centres

The ESA Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC) Noordwijk in The Netherlands is one of 18 centres throughout Europe supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups to spin-off space technology and to use satellite date to develop new and smarter solutions for terrestrial applications. More than 550 start-ups have been fostered at the ESA BICs and each year another 145 more are selected for incubation support at the centres.