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With the new proactive extinguisher, GFI ignites a new era in fire safety

Interview - November 17, 2023

By encapsulating a fire-suppression agent into small capsules, GFI's fire extinguishers ensure the safety of home appliances and electrical devices for over half a century without any alterations or malfunctions.

MR SANGSEOP LEE, CEO OF GFI CO LTD
MR SANGSEOP LEE | CEO OF GFI CO LTD

Since 300,000 BCE, fire has made its way into the homes of our ancestors and continues to play a significant role today. Throughout history, it has been essential to devise solutions to combat fire-related accidents. What is the historical progression of firefighting methods, and how does it emphasize the predominance of reactive approaches?

When delving into history, instances of fires during Roman and Medieval times were combated by employing water-filled baskets to extinguish the flames. In modern times, fully extinguishing fires manually has become increasingly challenging, prompting the utilization of fire vehicles for firefighting. However, due to the prevalence of large cities and tall buildings, traditional water-based methods struggle to reach upper levels, leading to the implementation of sprinkler systems. It's important to note that sprinklers are not primarily intended to extinguish fires, but rather to provide additional time for evacuation, dispelling a common misconception.

This situation underscores the fact that while technological advancements have been made in various fields, the approach to firefighting has seen limited transformation. Despite remarkable achievements like space travel and advanced communication devices, firefighting methods have largely remained stagnant. This observation raises the question: Have only mindsets evolved? Have the tools changed?

Indeed, the tools have evolved. From the historical use of baskets, firefighting has progressed to vehicles, sprinklers, and specialized extinguishers tailored for chemicals, materials, and oil factories. Notably, halogen gas finds application in electronic factories. Moreover, modern firefighting encompasses smart solutions such as those offered by Tyco and Siemens, leveraging sophisticated sensors. However, even with these advancements, the primary function remains reactive — alerting occupants to a fire's presence once it has ignited.

Academically, fire extinguishing approaches can be categorized as proactive or passive. The current approach leans heavily towards the latter, focusing on swift reaction to fires. Calling firefighting vehicles promptly and activating sprinklers exemplify this passive response. Curiously, approximately 99% of fire extinguishing efforts are reactive, which appears ironic in a world characterized by space exploration, smartphones, and cutting-edge technologies.

This leads to the question: What constitutes the remaining 1%? This fractional portion embodies active firefighting — preventative measures. Placing fire safety posters in schools, for instance, reflects a non-high-tech preventive approach. Amidst human advancement, the trend of companies and governments merely urging citizens to exercise caution in fire prevention falls short of fulfilling their responsibilities. This practice amounts to buck-passing, transferring accountability to others. Such behavior can inadvertently induce a sense of culpability among individuals during fire incidents. When examining global cases, many fires stem from negligence or errors.

In conclusion, the history of firefighting has witnessed an evolution in tools, yet the overarching approach has predominantly remained reactive. While strides have been made in various domains, it is imperative to adopt a more proactive stance in fire prevention, moving beyond the reliance on traditional methods and embracing advanced technologies to safeguard lives and property.

 

In recent times, AI integration has become more prevalent across a range of products. Notably, safety systems have emerged as a critical area benefiting from AI connectivity. How can your products seamlessly incorporate their attributes with AI systems?

We stand out as the sole company specializing in active firefighting solutions. Our focus extends beyond the prevention of fire ignition; instead, our products swiftly extinguish fires once they erupt. Our aim is to provide tangible solutions in the event of a fire outbreak. While ongoing vigilance is essential to prevent fires, the reality is that fires can start even when precautions are taken. This is particularly concerning when one is asleep, as fires can go undetected until it's too late. While the traditional red fire extinguisher is a staple in every household and effective, it presents usability challenges. It's heavy and not easily operated by the elderly, disabled, or children. Furthermore, fires originating in concealed areas such as behind refrigerators or inside containers or boxes often evade early detection.

To address these challenges, I take pride in founding this company with the intention of reshaping the history of firefighting. Our mission isn't confined to merely enhancing existing technologies; rather, we are dedicated to pioneering an entirely novel approach. I firmly believe that with concerted effort and ingenuity, humanity possesses the capability to innovate. Many individuals tend to adapt to their surroundings, while those who drive progress actively seek to better situations. Yet, the rarest group consists of those who conceive entirely unprecedented ideas, an elite few who truly lead humanity by introducing revolutionary innovations.

Allow me to introduce and elaborate on the intricacies of our products. This compact capsule serves as a fire extinguisher, utilizing a powder-based formulation. When magnified to approximately 200 microns, the capsule contains a fire-suppressing agent. Our choice of material is grounded in its eco-friendliness and safety, a fact certified by the United Nations. While alternatives exist, as a profit-driven enterprise, we must adhere to recognized and approved materials. Notably, Japan, European nations, and the United States allocate substantial budgets for safety measures, compelling us to align with materials endorsed across these markets.

 

Within the constraints imposed by the utilization of specific materials, you have devised various packaging solutions to overcome these limitations. How did you go about developing these diverse packaging approaches?

This capsule functions as a fire suppressor. In the case of Novec, it remains unfrozen until it reaches a temperature of -100 degrees Celsius. On Earth, water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius, while it evaporates at 100 degrees Celsius. Similarly, when the Novec detects a certain temperature threshold, the capsule within Novec ruptures, releasing the fire-suppressing material. When a fire erupts, the capsule heats up, leading to its conversion into gas and subsequent expansion. Hence, meticulous attention to thickness and size is crucial. Within a single palette, 1.3 million capsules are housed, all programmed to activate simultaneously upon reaching the designated temperature threshold. This phenomenon is rooted in principles of physical chemistry, impervious to external influences. Additionally, installation is hassle-free, and unlike sensitive sensors prone to false triggers from external stimuli, this fire extinguisher remains resilient. It can be touched and even submerged in water without adverse consequences.

 

In this fire extinguisher design, all capsules rupture simultaneously. Contrasting with conventional automatic fire extinguishers, such as water mist detectors, which may occasionally experience malfunctions, how does this product tackle potential failure?

This fire extinguisher boasts a flawlessness that stems from the unchanging technical properties of matter. Just as water transitions into gas at 100 degrees Celsius, this inherent characteristic remains consistent. Rigorous testing conducted in Germany has affirmed its durability and functionality over half a century without a single alteration or malfunction. However, given the commercial nature of this product, we undertake periodic updates and enhancements every 5-10 years to stay at the forefront of technological advancements.



Conventional fire extinguishing systems heavily rely on equipment like sensors, which are prone to failures. Additionally, these systems often consist of bulky components that pose challenges when installing them in confined spaces. How does your technology effectively address these long-standing issues associated with traditional fire safety measures?

Existing fire extinguishing systems operate reactively, incurring significant costs and requiring ample space due to their reliance on post-fire outbreak intervention. Our approach, however, diverges fundamentally by focusing on fire prevention. Our intent is not to render existing systems obsolete, as they possess their own utility. Our endeavor is centered on pioneering activities that have never been undertaken in human history. Our products are designed to thwart fire at its inception, even within exceptionally tight spaces like those behind refrigerators, within cell phone batteries, electric vehicles (EVs), wind power plants, and Energy Storage Systems (ESS). Extinguishing a candle is simpler than combating a raging wildfire.

Present systems necessitate pipelines and sensors, rendering them unsuitable for ESS or refrigerators. Their applicability is predominantly geared towards larger structures, including houses where a solitary sprinkler is insufficient to provide a comprehensive solution. Our primary aim is to prevent fires from ever initiating. Operating within strict size constraints, our products cannot accommodate sensors or additional functions. Furthermore, they cannot rely on external power, electricity, or batteries, necessitating complete automation. This was the driving impetus behind my product's development.

The capsule's composition relies on binding materials. This formulation ensures that the materials withstand wind and remain affixed to one another when subjected to external forces. The ingredients encompass acryl, epoxy, silicon, and, when required, PVC and paint. Liquids of any nature can be employed. The materials are mixed, requiring a liquid state, before subsequently solidifying. This versatile approach facilitates the creation of various forms, allowing us to address even minute spaces, as slim as 1mm. This adaptability empowers us to prevent fires in such confined areas. Envision a room with limited ignition points, such as power outlets, cords, or lamps. Our products can be positioned within these minuscule spaces to preclude fire outbreaks.

Notably, our products find significant application in secondary batteries, addressing instability issues that contribute to fire incidents. Their pivotal role is in ensuring vehicular safety due to the direct impact on human lives. Also, ESS equipped in power plants represents a substantial investment. Consequently, our products find extensive use in such installations. Furthermore, Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) are a type of small-scale ESS. In settings like hospital emergency power supplies, our products are integrated into the UPS system's upper cover. In the event of battery-generated heat, our products engage to suppress the fire. Failure to do so could result in substantial financial losses, reaching up to 10 billion won.

 

One of the most formidable challenges within lithium-ion battery supply chains revolves around transportation. Instances of batteries in chips or planes exploding are all too common, resulting not only in the battery's destruction but also potential damage to cargo. The logistics and transportation domains present demanding operational environments. Consider scenarios like shipment via sea, where exposure to moisture is possible, or air travel, which entails varying pressure conditions. How does your product fare in these demanding and unpredictable circumstances?

This is precisely why our products exist. Visualize a laptop engulfed in flames. The battery is often the source of the fire. With our products affixed to the battery, any excessive temperature rise triggers our intervention, effectively preventing fire. While your laptop might still suffer damage, we've shielded you from the peril of fire.

Our most robustly performing products find their niche in Energy Storage Systems (ESS). Given our extensive use in ESS and secondary batteries, incorporating our products into laptops is a relatively straightforward endeavor due to their smaller size. You might question why our products aren't more widely embraced. The answer lies in their unfamiliarity. Opting for our products in laptops essentially acknowledges the potential fire risk associated with these devices. Additionally, electronic gadgets rarely possess surplus internal space. Integrating our products would necessitate reconfiguring the device's design from the outset, incurring significant costs. Thus, adoption has been limited. This situation also explains why our products are primarily employed in high-risk environments like ESS.

However, I am confident that as the prevalence of electric vehicles increases on the roads, our products will progressively find their place in this sector. Safeguarding human lives remains paramount, even if modifying and upgrading EV production lines incurs substantial financial outlays, sometimes in the millions or trillions of dollars. For private corporations, financial considerations are pivotal. Consequently, immediate adoption of our products can be challenging. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that in due course, our products will establish a foothold in the EV industry.

 

Companies prioritize certifications and safety qualifications for their products to ensure the well-being of everyone involved. Your products offer customers the opportunity to enhance their qualifications and bolster the safety of their offerings. However, how would you explain the current challenge where your products might not yet fully convince clients of their indispensability? Looking ahead, what strategies do you envision to overcome this hurdle and establish your products' significance?

This is precisely why we are engaging with you today. The world is inundated with misinformation and exaggerated claims. Despite our efforts to communicate the importance of our products, genuine understanding remains limited. Collaborating with credible and impartial news media outlets like yours provides a channel to reach a broader audience. Such collaborations can enable more people to discover and adopt our products.

Fire vulnerabilities disproportionately affect the vulnerable and disadvantaged. The affluent often reside in safer, meticulously equipped environments with advanced sensors, while those with fewer resources often inhabit older homes with deteriorating electrical systems. Such environments are predisposed to fire outbreaks. My goal is to craft products that are not only affordable but also of high quality. We sometimes jest that a mere 5 cents can safeguard a refrigerator from igniting.

Our products hold tremendous potential for widespread use in underdeveloped nations. Even in developed countries, pockets of underprivileged communities exist. By extending our products to these demographics, we can potentially save countless lives and valuable property.

In the grand scheme, our mission entails fortifying global fire safety with our innovative solutions. In Buddhist philosophy, there's a proverb that asserts saving a single life is invaluable. If our products gain global traction and contribute to saving lives, I am convinced that my life holds profound purpose. This is the ethos of our company, and we are resolute in our commitment to expand product distribution on a global scale to rescue more individuals.

 

You mentioned that certain environment are particularly susceptible to fires, and this holds especially true for data centers. These centers house extensive electrical infrastructure with intricate wiring and cables, rendering them susceptible to fires from multiple sources. These might range from equipment malfunctions to single cable overheating. Given the complexity of such environments with diverse fire risks, how does your product portfolio effectively address these multifaceted challenges?

Our product lines are indeed equipped to address a diverse range of risks. Consider the typical scenario where fires don't originate from within cables but rather from their connecting points. Currently, black insulation tape is commonly employed for these connectors, despite its limited fire-preventing capabilities. In such instances, our fire-prevention tape proves invaluable. Alternatively, our products can be seamlessly integrated during the cable manufacturing stage, providing inherent fire protection from the outset.

 

There are hundreds of kilometers of cables in an aircraft, in a train and in buildings. But fire prevention systems like yours are absents. How do you approach the companies involved in these applications and projects to introduce your solutions?

Given that we are a small company, we have faced challenges in directly engaging with these larger enterprises. Our capacity to cater to global corporations, including giants like Samsung, has been limited. Factors like the Covid-19 outbreak have hindered our expansion into the global market. However, this year, we are committed to breaking into the global arena. It's important to note that contacting a global company isn't as simple as sending an email. Business engagements require meticulous consideration of various aspects, including their data systems, pertinent documents, and more. We take this process seriously. To establish credibility, we are actively collaborating with the media and participating in numerous exhibitions simultaneously. We are continuously exploring ways to enhance our efforts. The Korean market, although significant, has its limitations. Our ambition extends beyond Korea; we aim to provide assistance not only domestically but also to other countries around the world.

 

You've indicated your preparations for a global expansion. Which regions, areas, or countries have you identified as pivotal for your growth?

We have identified two key areas for our growth strategy. Firstly, we intend to concentrate on the secondary battery industry, targeting the main secondary battery manufacturing countries: China, Japan, and Korea. Currently, no other countries are on par with these powerhouses in secondary battery production. Secondly, we aim to engage general businesses and individuals, specifically focusing on cable and household electronic device manufacturers. For this aspect, our scope encompasses the entire globe.

Particularly, European countries and the United States, with their substantial purchasing power, are definite targets for us. The revenue generated from sales in these regions will enable us to donate our products to underdeveloped countries that lack the means to procure our solutions. Notably, we already conduct significant donations within Korea. We manufacture power strips equipped with our fire extinguishing products for donations to disabled associations, religious groups, and marginalized communities.

 

One recurring challenge in Official Development Assistance (ODA) construction projects in developing countries, especially when involving electrical facilities, is the lack of local expertise in repair, maintenance, operational management, as well as safety and disaster prevention. How would your products address or overcome those challenges?

Our products eliminate the need for post-installation service or repair. Once installed, they have a lifespan of 20 years, and they are user-friendly to the extent that even children can install and operate them easily.

Allow me to add another point. Earlier, we discussed airplanes. Airplanes are highly valuable assets, and when unexpected fires break out, swiftly extinguishing them becomes an exceedingly challenging task. Installing our product could prevent catastrophic plane crashes.

Moreover, we supply our products to the defense industry, which operates under stringent confidentiality. This industry involves specialized equipment for rockets and missiles. These defense systems comprise intricate electronic parts and batteries, some of which are integrated with our products. Components like motors, electronic substrates, and motherboards are susceptible to heat-related issues. Our products play a pivotal role in preventing fires in these components, extending even to spacecraft applications.

 

In South Korea, prominent military and aerospace companies, such as LIG Nex1, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), maintain exacting standards. Are your products compatible with these stringent criteria? Moreover, after export, can your products meet the requirements for military utilization?

This information is confidential. However, I can share that next year, we are set to supply products to the U.S. Army, marking a significant expansion. Our core emphasis is on fire prevention, transcending allegiances to ensure fire prevention for our forces, allies, and even potential adversaries. This commitment to creating a safer world through fire prevention holds a philosophical essence. At my age, I contemplate the value of life. With more days behind me than ahead, I desire to make my remaining time meaningful. Securing one's livelihood entails ensuring fundamental necessities, such as having a place to call home.; I believe I've achieved that. Life has bestowed much upon us, and I believe in giving back to the world in turn.

 

Looking toward the future, what objectives would you like to achieve during your journey with this company?

I don't harbor a single ultimate goal. My intention is to give my best effort each day. Money is not the driving force behind this endeavor; I am no longer young. The days I've lived outnumber those ahead. My aspiration is for my days to hold value, benefitting not only my company but also my colleagues, the local community, South Korea, and the global community. I firmly believe that our products can be a force for good. By enhancing safety worldwide, I aim to see more people rely on my products for safer lives.

If necessary, I'm prepared to establish manufacturing facilities in other countries. Shipping finished products overseas could incur high logistics costs, leading to elevated final prices. To counter this, I'd consider constructing manufacturing plants in other countries. Witnessing widespread utilization of my products among a larger population would be a profoundly gratifying outcome.

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