Starlite is an intumescent material claimed to be able to withstand and insulate from extreme heat. It was invented by British hairdresser and amateur chemist Maurice Ward (1933–2011) during the 1970s and 1980s, and received significant publicity after coverage of the material aired in 1990 on the BBC science and technology show Tomorrow's World. The name Starlite was coined by Ward's granddaughter Kimberly.
The American company Thermashield, LLC claims to have acquired the rights to Starlite in 2013 and replicated it. It is the only company to have itself publicly demonstrated the technology and have samples tested by third parties.
Under tests, Starlite was claimed to be able to withstand attack by a laser beam that could produce a temperature of 10,000 degrees Celsius. Live demonstrations on Tomorrow's World and BBC Radio 4 showed that an egg coated in Starlite could remain raw, and cold enough to be picked up with a bare hand, even after five minutes in the flame of a blowtorch. It would also prevent a blowtorch from damaging a human hand. When heat is applied, the material chars, which creates an expanding low density foam of carbon which is very thermally resistant.
Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence Sir Ronald Mason noted, "This is really the most remarkable material".[better source needed]
Materials scientist Mark Miodownik described Starlite as a type of intumescent paint, and one of the materials he would most like to see for himself. He also admitted some doubt about the commercial potential of Starlite.
Drawbacks are the need to have a very high temperature or flame to start the reaction and form the insulation layer, so low temperature insulation needs to be proven, as well as testing thermal conductivity and capacity in different conditions. Contamination with dust residue may occur, and so slow degradation with use.
Its main use appears to be as a flame retardant. Advances in mechanical property such as composite material association needed to be done to extend the applications.
Starlite's composition is a closely guarded secret, but it is said to contain a variety of organic polymers and co-polymers with both organic and inorganic additives, including borates and small quantities of ceramics and other special barrier ingredients—up to 21 in all. Perhaps uniquely for a material claimed to be thermal proof, it is claimed to be not entirely inorganic but up to 90 percent organic.
The American company Thermashield, which owns the Starlite formula, stated in a radio interview that Starlite is not made from household ingredients and there is no PVA glue, baking soda or baking powder in it.
Ward allowed various organisations such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment and ICI to conduct tests on samples, but did not permit them to retain samples for fear of reverse engineering. Ward maintained that his invention was worth billions.
NASA became involved in Starlite in 1994, and NASA representative Rudy Naranjo talked about its potential in a Dateline NBC report. The Dateline announcer said that maybe Starlite could help with the fragile Space Shuttle heat shield.
Boeing, which was the main contractor for the Space Shuttles, became interested in 1994, in the potential of Starlite to eliminate flammable materials in their jets.
By the time of his death, there appeared to have been no commercialisation of Starlite, and the formulation of the material has not been released to the public. According to a 2016 broadcast of the BBC programme The Naked Scientists, Ward took his secrets with him when he died.
A YouTube user NightHawkInLight attempted to create materials that replicate the properties of Starlite in 2018. Observing that the mechanism that generates an expanding carbon foam in Starlite is similar to black snake fireworks, NightHawkInLight concocted a formula using cornstarch, baking soda, and PVA glue. After drying, the hardened material creates a small layer of carbon foam on the surface when exposed to high heat, insulating the material from further heat transfer. he later improved it by taking out the pva glue, and baking soda, and adding flour, and borax which makes it less expensive, mold resistant, and allows it to work when dry
Thermashield's Starlite has successfully passed Femtosec Laser testing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and ASTM D635-15 Standard Testing.
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