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Development of electric cables

for fire situations


During the past 25 years, many authorities have become concerned about the
dangers of fire: for the safety of the people who might be trapped, the
continued working of the electrical circuits associated with safety, the longterm effects of smoke and fume damage on sophisticated electronic
equipment and even the effects on the buildings themselves. Although
electric cables very rarely cause a fire, they are often engulfed in fires started
elsewhere and consequently their constituent parts should not contribute to
the fire, help spread it, nor emit gases during combustion that could harm
people or damage equipment. This article highlights work carried out by the
electric cable industry, often encouraged by customers, to develop new and
better materials that will be safer to use should a fire occur. It also gives details
of the current standards, both British and the IEC equivalents, which relate to
the performance of cables in fires and measure such characteristics as fire
survival, fire resistance, fire propagation, smoke emission and toxicity.

by D. W. Brown
Historical
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has been a popular
cable-making material since the 1950s
because it has good mechanical and
electrical properties, it is easy t o extrude onto
cables and is relatively cheap to produce.
However, although PVC is slow to ignite,
when it is involved in a fire it emits dense
smoke, which rapidly obscures visibility in a
confined space and, in addition, emits
hydrogen chloride gas that can maim or kill.
In the late 1970s, London Underground
Ltd. (LUL) became concerned a t the incidence
of fires that occurred in their railway tunnels
due to flammable rubbish collectinq in
certain areas (caused by the eddiesof passing
trains) and then being ignited by discarded
cigarette ends (smoking was still allowed on
the trains a t that time) or sparks from the
shoehail connection. These small rubbish
fires often occurred under rows of electric
cables for the power, control, signalling and
communication circuits, that are installed on
hangers fixed to the sides of the tunnels. The
fires ignited the PVC oversheaths of the
cables and the resultant smoke filled the
tunnels and stopped the trains.
British cable makers were each asked t o try
t o find a solution to the problem and the first
attempts incorporated flame-retardant
additives into the PVC, which limited the fire
propagation but did nothing for the emission
of smoke and acid gas. The hydrogen
chloride gas comes from the polymer and the
smoke from the polymer and plasticisers that
are incorporated into the PVC t o make it
more pliable. To make a breakthrough, the
cable industry had to move awayfrom PVC.
POWER ENGINEERING JOURNAL JUNE 1997

BlCC Cables response was the


introduction of the low smoke and fume
(LSF) range of cables for all circuits. These
cables do not contain PVC, nor any other
materials which would generate dense
smoke in the event of a fire and nor do they
contain halogens. In the past, some specialist
cables with oil or other fluid resisting
properties have contained fluorine, but it is
now recognised that all halogens, i.e.
chlorine, bromine and fluorine are hazardous
t o health, because they form the acid gases
HCI, HBr and HFI when subject to fire and
therefore should be eliminated from all
systems. Other manufacturers introduced

London Underground,
22 kV cables and joint
bay

101

Three-core 120 mm2


21 kV cable as supplied
for the Channel Tunnel
Three-core 240 mm222
kV cable as supplied to
London Underground

their own range of low smoke and fume


cables, which they designated LSOH, LSZH,
LSHF etc.
Materials development
The fire retardancy of LSF cables is
achieved through the incorporation of about
60% by weight of aluminium trihydrate
(ATH) in the formulation. ATH confers
retardancy through the combined effects of
diluting the quantity of combustible material
available to burn and an endothermic
decomposition that liberates water, i.e.:

A1,0,.3H20 -+A120,

+ 3H,O

a t 170C

The liberation of water, plus the different


burning mechanism of LSF type compounds,
results in the low smoke characteristic and
the problem of corrosive acid gas is avoided
by eliminating all halogens from the
polymers in the formulation.
Early LSF compounds were based on highly
amorphous materialssuch as ethylene
propylene rubber (EPR), but above their glass
transition temperature of about 0C these
compounds are intrinsically weak, giving rise
to poor abrasion resistance, poor tensile
strength and, more importantly, poor tear
resistance. Arguably the most important
mechanical property of a cable sheathing
material is its resistance t o tearing because
cables are often scuffed or cut during
installation and this can lead to the sheath
Table 1

splitting, particularly a t elevated temperatures,


when the underlying construction imposes a
hoop stress on the oversheath.
BlCC Cables set itself the target of
producing an LSF compound with a tear
resistance a t least equal t o that of PVC a t
both 20C and 70C. The latter temperature
was chosen as being the sheath temperature
of a cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE)
insulated cable when fully loaded. The
constraints of a high filler content meant that
it was necessary to select an ethylene-based
copolymer with a melting point in the range
95-1 15C and, using such a polymer, it was
found possible to develop a formulation
which easily met the target performance.
The early LSF compounds had another
major defect, which was their poor
performance in water when compared to
PVC. Water vapour permeation rates typically
of the order of 25g/m/24h, compared to
3.2g/m/24h for PVC, were the norm. By
washing the ATH t o remove the bulk of the
sodium hydroxide impurity and rendering the
balance inactive by the use of organosilane,
the surface of the ATH becomes water
repellent and the result is an LSF compound
which has moisture properties better than
those of PVC.
A list of the more important characteristics
that ought to be considered when customers
are specifying the LSF cables required is given
in Table 1; the values of PVC are included for
comparison.

Characteristics of LSF a n d PVC c bles

tensile strength at break


elongation a t break
aged 7 days a t 1 OOT,tensile strength at break
aged 7 days a t 1 OO'C, elongation a t break
hot pressure at 80C
cold elongation a t -1 5C
tear resistance at 20C
tear resistance at 70C
oxygen index
temperature index
water vapour permeation
Kvaluefollowing 7 days in water at 70C
retention of tensile strength following 7 days
in water a t 70C

PVC

13
160
13
145

>12.5
>I50
> 12.5
>I50
< 50
>20
8
5

5
> 50
9
5
38
290
0.6
130
95
~

102

LSF

35

._

units

Nlm m2
%
N/mm2
%
Oh

%
N/m m
N/mm
%02
"C

NIA

3.2
30
95
~

g/m/24 h
MQ km
YO

~~

POWER ENGINEERING JOURNAL JUNE 1997

Fire safety engineering


In 1992, IS0 TC92 SC4 - Fire Safety
Engineering, was created. Previously, groups
in the International Standards Organisation
had considered fire safety overwhelmingly in
terms of reaction to fire of the materials and
products, i.e. ignition, propagation and
spread of fire, smoke density, heat release
and corrosive/noxious gas formation. The
majority of existing reaction t o fire tests look
a t only one of these responses to the model
fire, and product specifications give
individual values for each of the listed
response factors. Test requirements often
seem arbitraryand based on custom and
practice, rather than consideration of actual
risk or hazard.
IS0 TC92 SC4 has five working groups
developing fire strategy engineering
standards:
WGI Application of fire safety
performance concepts t o design
objectives
WG2 Fire development and smoke
movement
WG3 Fire spread beyond the
compartment of origin
WG4 Detection, activation and
suppression
WG5 Evacuation and rescue.
The British Standards Institution has
published a draft for public comment
entitled Draft Code of Practicefor the
Application of fire safety engineering
principles t o fire safety in buildings, a 192
page draft publication issued in 1995. It is
designed for use by fire safety engineers as a
structured approach t o assessing the
effectiveness of the total fire safety system in
achieving design objectives.
In the electrotechnical area, International
Electrotechnical Commission, Technical
Committee 89 has responsibility for fire
hazard and its WG2 has issued a revised IEC
695-1 -1, Guidance for assessing fire hazard
of electrotechnical products, which is in
draft form for voting.
Both these draft documents highlight the
fire safety engineering approach t o fire
hazards and they both indicate that the
principles, methodology and calculation
tools can be applied t o the fire safe design of
buildings, tunnels, petrochemical plants,
offshore oil/gas accommodation modules
and transportation.

(b)Those cables that will continue t o work


for a limited period during the fire, to
allow the orderly and controlled
shutdown of plant.
(c) Those cables that can be disconnected a t
the outbreak of the fire and do not need
to survive i t
The cables in all three categories must not
contribute to the fire, must not allow flames
to propagate along them (either in horizontal
or vertical mode), must not generate dense
smoke nor emit toxic gases.
Unfortunately it is the well-publicised
disasters, like Summerland in the Isle of Man,
HMSSheffield in the Falklands, Kings Cross in
London, Piper Alpha in the North Sea, and
Dusseldorf Airport in Germany which
highlight the fact that if PVC cables are
involved in a fire then the emission of dense
smoke and toxic gases will add t o the hazard
and may well increase the fatalities and
damage. The devastating fire a t Kings Cross
underground station on the 18th November
1987 has completely changed the way that
LUL now approaches fire safety engineering
and the products it permits t o be installed in
the underground railway network. Similarly,
the fire in HMSSheffield altered for ever the
specifications of the materials t o be used in
fighting ships and no doubt the fire at
Dusseldorf Airport on the 1 1th April 1996
will change the attitude t o what is allowed to
be installed at airports in future.
A customer-led demand criterion often
becomes well advanced of the national and
international standards appertaining a t the
time and the result is that clients with large
orders t o place overcome their frustration at
the lack of suitable specifications by writing
their own. A good example of this is LUL,

Channel Tunnel British


CrOSSover cavern under
construction

Practical experience
Cables installed in buildings, tunnels or
other enclosed premises, especially those
likely to be used by people, or which contain
sensitive electronic equipment, should now
fall into three categories:
(a) Those cables that will survive the
fire and continue t o operate
satisfactorily, even when sprayed with
water and hit by falling masonry or
other debris.

POWER ENGINEERING JOURNAL JUNE 1997

103

a major incident in the Channel Tunnel,


when the fire spread t o adjacent wagons.
At the centre of the fire, the heat exceeded
1 OOO"C, sufficient t o destroy all the cables
a t this position and, in addition, spall the
concrete linings such that the reinforcing
rods were exposed. However, only a short
distance away the mineral-insulated cable
survived and continued t o power the
emergency lighting, albeit without its LSF
oversheath. In no cases did any of the LSF
cables propagate the fire, or add t o it in any
way, nor did they emit dense smoke or
acrid gases. At a position 350 m from the
centre of the fire the power cables were
examined in detail and although the LSF
oversheaths were blistered (due t o the heat
I iberati ng the water vapour), the insulated
cores were untouched and could have
permitted the HV power t o be reconnected.

Fixing a trough cleat to


the21 kvcable in the
Channel Tunnel

104

which realised that a true fire survival cable


was required after Kings Cross, i.e. one that
would survive an actual fire and the
conditions appertaining during the
conflagration. In practice this means a cable
that will continue to operate with prolonged
exposure t o heat and flames, while a t the
same time being directly impacted by falling
objects and receiving a pounding and
thorough soaking from a fireman's hoseall a t the same time and on the same piece of
cable.
The 1994 LUL specification requires a
sample of cable to be subjected t o a three
hour flame exposure while being directly
impacted a t the centre of the heated section
throughout the test. The same sample, still
energised a t rated voltage, is then sprayed
with water for 1 5 minutes, bent through
180" (into a U shape) and given another
impact. Finally the same sample must be
immersed in water for an hour and then reenergised for a final integrity test. London
Underground believes that such a test is
representative of the conditions that could so
easily occur in a railway tunnel or station fire.
The Channel Tunnel Builders believed that in
a major conflagration all the cable support
systems could collapse, leaving the copper
weight of all cables suspended to the fire
survival cable. They therefore insisted that the
equivalent of 25 kg/m be suspended from
the cable, in the centre of the heated section,
during the three hour fire test a t 950C and
that circuit integrity a t rated voltage be
maintained throughout. Only mineralinsulated copper-clad cables will survive the
LUL and Channel Tunnel tests. .
On Monday, 18th November 1996, a lorry
on a freight wagon caught fire and this led t o

Cable standards and their fire-related


properties
BS 6724:1990- 600/1000 Vand
1900/3300 VXLPE insulated, armoured
cables
British Specification BS 6724, 'Armoured
cables for electricity supply having
thermosetting insulation with low emissions
of smoke and corrosive gases when affected
by fire', was first published in 1986. This
standard covers the range of single core and
multicore armoured cables and requires
compliance with the vertical fire test of BS
4066 Part 3, Category NMV 1.5 (IEC 332
Part 3, Category C). Due to advances in
material technology many cables are now
able t o pass the more onerous requirements
of Category NMV7 (IEC Category A).
The 1996 version of this specification will
require all cables t o have minimum light
transmittance values of 70% when tested in
accordance with BS 7622 (IEC 1034). The
light transmittance value is the percentage of
light reaching the detector during the 3 m
cube smoke test.
As with all cables described as low smoke
and fume (LSF), the materials used in the
construction comply with the zero halogen
requirements of BS 6425 (IEC 754).
Unfortunately the test method used is only
sensitive down to a limit of 0.5% and this is
why this value is stated as the maximum acid
gas content for zero halogen cables.
BS 7835:1996 - 6 k V t o 30 kVXLPE
insulated, armoured cables
For many years XLPE insulated, armoured
cables in thevoltage range 6-30 kV have
been manufactured to BS 6622 (IEC 502).
These incorporated PVC as the bedding and
sheathing material and, on occasions, special
reduced fire propagating PVC was included
for use in power stations. The new standard
includes many of the established features of
BS 6622, but eliminates all the PVC
components. Cables to BS 7835 will be 'zero
halogen' and will comply with the reduced
fire propagation requirements of BS 4066
Part 3, Category NMV 1.5 (IEC 332 Part 3,

POWER ENGINEERING JOURNAL JUNE 1997

Category C). Cables manufactured by some


companies will meet the more stringent
vertical fire test requirements of Category A.
As the medium-voltage LSF cables are
considerably larger in diameter than the
600/1000 V equivalents, it is expected that
slightly larger volumes of smoke will be
produced in a fire. The maximum value of
smoke evolution for these products is still in
debate, but for cables up t o 70 m m
diameter, a minimum light transmittance
value of 60% has been agreed. It is
probable that the very large cables, with a
diameter of 70 < 120 mm, will require a
lower test limit of perhaps 50%. When
considering the specification values for
minimum light transmittance over the
30-40 minute test period, it is worth
remembering that similar tests on PVC
sheathed cables result in zero light
transmittance in less than five minutes.
BS 6387 Fire survival testing
BS 6387 'Specification for performance
requirements for cables required t o maintain
circuit integrity under fire conditions' was
introduced in 1983 t o try t o help installation
designers assess the comparative claims of
different products. This standard was issued
t o cover those small wiring cables used for
fire alarm and emergency lighting circuits a t
450/750 V and for mineral cables complying
with BS 6207, but its scope appears t o have
grown. It was revised in 1994 and attempts
t o embrace the three physical criteria which
cable systems encounter in a fire, i.e. heat,
water (from sprinklers) and mechanical
shock (from falling debris). The tests are as
follows:

fire alone: The 1500 mm sample of cable


carries its test current a t rated voltage
while being heated by a line of gas
burners. The cable must maintain circuit
integrity for three hours a t 650"C, 750C
or 950C t o obtain an 'A', 'B' or 'C'
category rating, 'C' being the highest/
most difficult to achieve.
Waterspray: Afresh sampleof cable,
with a test current a t rated voltage, is
heated t o 650C and this temperature is
held for 15 minutes. With the flames still
burning, a water sprinkler is applied t o
that part of the cable in the flames for a
further 15 minutes and if circuit integrity
is maintained, the cable receives a
category 'W' pass.
Mechanicalshock: Another fresh sample
of cable is fixed to a board of specified
dimensions with cable clips. The cable has
two right angle bends as specified and
the board is hit for 15 minutes while the
cable is exposed to the gas flames. Circuit
integrity must be maintained a t 650"C,
750C or 950C to obtain an 'X', 'Y' or 'Z'
category rating, 'Z' being the highest.

each only has t o pass 'C', 'W' or 'Z', not that


one sample passes all three.
BS 6207 Mineral insulated copper covered
cables
BS 6207 'Specification for mineral
insulated copper sheathed cables with
copper conductors' covers both the lightduty and heavy-duty product range with
voltages of 500 and 750 V. The cable can be
supplied with a corrosion-resistant outer
covering over the copper sheath and, when
required, this outer sheath will have the
properties and pass the test for LSF cables.
MlCC cables are insulated with the
inorganic magnesiu m oxide, which gives
them a fire survival property and, although
the most popular use is for small wiring, the
range is quite comprehensive, as follows:
e Light duty 500 V

-single and twin conductor cables up t o


4 mm2
- 3,4 and 7 conductor cables up t o
2.5"'.
e Heavy duty 750 V:
-single conductor cables up t o
400 mm2
- 2,3 and 4 conductor cables up to
25 mm2
- 7 conductor cables up t o 4 mm2
- 12 conductor cables up to 2.5 mm:
- 19 conductor cables up to 1.5 mm
MlCC cables fully comply with BS 6387 and
one sample of cable can be used for the three
tests to prove the categories CWZ. They also
comply with the vertical fire test of BS 4066
Part 3, Category A and the smoke test of
BS 7622.
BS 72 7 I Non-armoured thermosetting cables
This British Standard specifies the
requirements for non-armoured cables with
thermosetting insulation, with rated voltages
of 450/750 V and which produce lower levels

M,CC cable and fire


survival junction box in
the Channel Tunnel

Thus the highest category rating of all for


BS 6387 is 'CWZ', but because the standard
allows the use of three separate samples,
POWER ENGINEERING JOURNAL JUNE 1997

105

Channel Tunnel main


substation and terminal
at Folkestone

of smoke and corrosive gases when subjected


t o fire than PVC cables manufactured to
BS 6004. The single core cables must comply
with the relatively simple, short duration
flame tests of BS 4066 Parts 1 and 2, but the
multicore sheathed cables are also required
to pass the more onerous BS 4066 Part 3,
Category NMV 1.5 test.

BS 7629 Cables with a limited circuit integrity


Cables manufactured t o this specification
are primarily intended for use in fire alarm
and emergency lighting circuits a t 300/500 V.
The cables have annealed copper conductors
t o BS 6360, type E l 2 silicon rubber
insulation to BS 7655, a trilayer flame and
electrostatic screen barrier and an LSF
oversheath which is also abrasion resistant
and complies with the requirements of
BS 7629 Type B.
This range of fire-resistant cables has been
designed for use where a limited measure of
circuit integrity is needed for the safe
evacuation of personnel. The cables comply
with BS 6387 Category BWX (when the three
properties are tested separately) and some
manufacturers can achieve Category CWZ.
The cables also comply with the fire
resistance test of IEC 331 (750C for three
hou rs).
These cables are referred t o in BS 5266, the
Emergency Lighting Part 1 Code of Practice,
and BS 5389, the Fire Detection and Alarm
System Part 1 Code of Practice. Because of
the limited applications for this range, the
sizes available are also limited t o 2, 3 and 4
conductors in 1-0mm2, 1.5 mm2, 2.5 mm2
and 4 mm.
BS 7846 Armoured cables with limited circuit
integrity
This standard was issued in September
1996; it covers the same range of 600/1000 V
cables as BS 6724, but these cables are of an
enhanced design such that, in addition to
complying with the fire performance
requirements of BS 6724, they will also
operate for three hours a t 950C when tested
to BS 6387 Category C. Cables which meet
this standard have been available from some
106

manufacturers for a period of time.


Summary
This article has given an indication of the
large amount of research and development
work that has taken place during the past
25 years to produce a range of cables that
will meet todays fire performance criteria.
The work continues to try t o make further
improvements because customers are always
seeking better characteristics a t lower prices.
Unfortunately it has often been disasters that
have led to quantum leaps in technology in
the past and it is to be hoped that this will
not be necessary in the future.
It is pleasing to note that much time and
effort is being applied by experts on fire
safety engineering to try t o ensure that all
buildings, tunnels and other enclosed spaces
are properly designed with safety in mind,
and also that the cables and accessories
perform as well as, if not better than,
predicted when involved in an actual fire.
The low smoke and fume cable range is
now well established and is available for all
products, from large power cables t o optical
fibre cables, where the improvement in the
latter is such that even a 288 fibre cable will
now pass the flame propagation test of
BS 4066 Part 3, the smoke emission test of
BS 7622 and the acid gas emission test of
BS 6425. There is also a full range of
accessories t o match the cables, t o ensure
that the whole system is low smoke and
halogen free, i.e. safe for people t o use.
The cable industry has a product t o meet
your requirements, but for your contract
please specify exactly what you require,
because the price quoted will reflect your
choice.
0
0

standard low smoke zero halogen (LSF)


flame-retardant cable
fire resisting with a limited circuit integrity
fire survival

0 IEE: 1997
David Brown is Business Development Manager,
BlCC Cables Ltd., Wrexham, Clwyd LL13 9PQ, UK.

POWER ENGINEERING JOURNAL JUNE 1997