A research team at Toyohashi University of Technology (TUT) has developed a new type of fire extinguisher which could be used in environments such as space stations. The ‘Vacuum Extinguish Method’ puts out the fire by sucking the flames and combustion products into a vacuum chamber. The usual method in this type of environment uses a blast of CO2 to rob the fire of oxygen but this new technique does not rely on the release of any noxious gases.

Up until now CO2 has been the go-to extinguishing agent to douse the flames in space vehicles. It is safe to use because it does not use materials that could get into the electrical systems and cause a malfunction. Unfortunately the gas is also toxic to astronauts in the vicinity who need to don respirators before the CO2 can be used. Any delay results in an increased volume of combustion products such as smoke, toxic gases and soot which spread throughout the station. These combustion by-products will eventually get filtered out but the process is very time consuming.

It sucks... Vacuum offers a number of advantages compared to CO2. Image: TUT
In this novel new technique, a vacuum chamber simply swallows the flames and combustion products. The suction valve to the chamber is then closed and the fire is extinguished. The chamber can then be cleaned out later and de-pressurized again for reuse.

It works closer to home also

Any new system introduced to a space vehicle will be subjected to a rigorous series of safety checks and tests before approval. The vacuum chamber is smaller than the equivalent CO2 extinguisher and it should also be useful in submarine and clean-room environments.