The Role of Chemistry in History

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PBI History

April 28th, 2008 · 1 Comment ·

PBI Intro| Structure | Uses | The good the bad and the burny|History|

The worlds only producer of High Performance PBI fiber and polymer is PBI Performance Products Inc.

Their key product markets are protective clothing for the fire service and industrial workers, semiconductor and electronics, and various other high temperature applications.

History of PBI

  • 1961 Polybenzimidazoles were developed by H. Vogel and C.S. Marvel with anticipation that the polymers would have exceptional thermal and oxidative stability.
  • 1963 Subsequently, NASA and the Air Force Materials Lab sponsored considerable work with polybenimidazoles for aerospace and defense applications as a non-flammable and thermally stable textile fiber.
  • 1969 The United States Air Force selects polybenzimidazole (PBI) for its superior thermal protective performance after a fire aboard an Apollo spacecraft killed three astronauts in 1967.
  • 1970’s NASA continues to use PBI as part of the astronauts’ clothing on Apollo, Skylab and numerous space shuttle flights.
  • When the Sky lab fell to the earth, the part that survived the re-entry was coated in PBI and thus did not burn up.
  • 1980’s PBI was introduced to the fire service, and through Project Fires an outer shell for turnout gear was developed. PBI Gold® fabric was born, consisting of 40% PBI/60% Para-aramid.
  • Previous to this there had been combinations of Nomex, Leather, and Kevlar materials.
  • Leather and Rubber fire gear left “vital” areas exposed.
  • PBI gear is a full suit and looks alot like a snow suit (suspender pants) with a winter coat.
  • 1983 A unique production plant goes on-line and PBI fibers become commercially available.
  • 1990’s Short cut PBI fibers are introduced for use in automotive braking systems. PBI staple fiber enters the aircraft market for seat fire blocking layers.
  • 1992 Lightweight PBI fabrics are developed for flame resistant workwear for electric utility and petrochemical applications.
  • 1994 PBI Gold fabric is engineered in black and was specified by FDNY.
  • 2001 After the terrorist attacks on 9/11 many of the 343 Fire Fighters killed were only identifiable by their PBI Turnout Gear.
  • 2003 PBI Matrix® was commercialized and introduced as the next generation PBI for firefighter turnout gear.

PBI replaced gear that was made of leather/rubber/or nomex. Nomex, leather and rubber are all still used but generally not without PBI. Some departments in more rural areas without the money to buy PBI turnout gear (about $2,500 per suit) still use the old style.

There are several major departments that have not yet switched to PBI becuase of tradition or fear of PBI and what happens with it. This picture is of the Chicago Fire Department, one of the last city departments to still rely on the old style of fire gear (3/4 length boots and 35″ leather or rubber coats) .



You can see in this picture that even with the boots pulled up some ‘vital’ areas are left unprotected.

Tags: Polybenzimidazole