Spectacular fire in Dubai Torch Tower demonstrates the folly of foam
UPDATE: This building was not clad in foam panels but in Aluminum Composite Panels with polyethylene cores. I regret the error.
The fire in the eponymously named Torch Tower in Dubai was indeed spectacular to watch:
The fire started at about the 50th floor (apparently by someone smoking on a balcony) and zipped up the outside of the building from there. But in fact there was not much damage to the building except to the cladding and glazing and nobody was seriously hurt. That's because the building is made of non-flammable materials, but the cladding is a
lightweight panel made of polyurethane foam and thin aluminum. It's terrific that they actually try to insulate these buildings against the heat instead of just doing all glass, but the fact is, foam burns like mad, even with flame retardants mixed in. Aluminum Composite Panels, a sandwich of thin aluminum covering a polyethylene core. Apparently 70% of the buildings in Dubai are clad in these.
After a 2012 fire I wrote Dubai Tower Fire Demonstrates Dubiousness of Using Flammable Insulation, noting that flammable foams have no place in green building and are probably not safe. When they burn, they emit dioxins and other toxic products of combustion that can be as deadly as the fire.
Apparently, after that fire they changed the building codes to require non-flammable cladding.That's easy to do; all the companies that make the foam sandwich panels also make them with glass or rock wool insulation for jurisdictions that prohibit combustible cladding, which is most of the world on buildings more than a few stories tall.
© Getty Images
This is a very good thing. The damage here is actually pretty superficial, but this fire could have been much, much worse.
Read our series on the folly of foam in related links.