First flames from the iCone

No, the iCone isn’t the latest Apple product everyone-is-not-talking-about. Its our latest piece of experimental equipment in the wildFIRE Lab – a cone calorimeter.  We’re the first lab in the UK to have this model and one of just a few in the world.

The logistics of setting up a new lab in an old building can sometimes be problematic.  Firstly the lab needed some renovation work to bring in new gas supplies, fit safety alarms and extract systems.  Then there is the issue of getting large heavy equipment into the building, particularly when there is no step-free access to the lab from the road.  Doors and other obstacles were measured and re-measured.  Thankfully our new iCone calorimeter from FTT [] was in the hands of HRH logistics [].  With some ingenious use of the tail lift and some pallets, bridges and ramps were constructed and the iCone made it into the lab intact.

The iCone is a cone calorimeter which will be used to precisely record how different materials burn.  It allows us to monitor and control how different materials burn.

A sample is placed under a cone shaped heater (hence the name) which can be set to a specific heat flux.  As the sample is exposed to the heat, volatile gases are produced which are then ignited by a spark.  As the sample burns, the changing weight of the material is constantly logged along with the amount of oxygen used and the amount of carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide produced.  The amount of smoke/soot being produced can also be monitored.  All of this information will be used by the wildFIRE Lab researchers to investigate how different vegetation influences the nature of fires.


Tony, the Test Engineer from FTT had 4 days with us to set up the equipment, certify it was giving correct results, and train us to use it.  There are always nervous moments when installing complex pieces of equipment – one missing piece or a malfunctioning component could mean lengthy delays.  You can’t always just pop down the shop to get a replacement bit.  To the relief of everyone, all seemed to be in order.

Even though this is a state of the art semi-automated bit of kit, there was still a lot to take in.  We were all scribbling extra notes on the 70-step set up and calibration process.  Thankfully, after a couple of runs things were making sense and we were getting the hang of how the software worked.


Even though we will only be burning various types of natural material, calibration checks had to be done using plastic (PMMA).  It is amazing how vigorously a solid block of plastic can burn and quite mesmerising the way it boils away on the surface.  After this test, we were then free to experiment with some proper samples including various bits of wood and spruce needles (see image of the spruce ash remaining after a burn).

The training days quickly passed with only time for a brief look at our additional bits of kit – a larger cone heater with a rather big power socket, and an enclosed unit which will allow us to experiment with low-oxygen environments.

Blogged by Mark Grosvenor