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International NACE Paper

A Review Of The Robustness Of Epoxy Passive Fire Protection (PFP)

To Offshore Environments

Paper No.



A Review of the Robustness of Epoxy Passive Fire Protection (PFP)

to Offshore Environments
Robin Wade
International Paint Ltd., Protective Coatings
Stoneygate Lane, Gateshead
Tyne and Wear, NE10 0JY
United Kingdom

Intumescent fire protection products which swell and char in reaction to the heat of a fire, have been
with us for decades. These coatings may be water based, solvent based or solvent free. 100% solids
epoxy intumescent passive fire protection materials (Epoxy PFP) were introduced to the Oil & Gas
market in 1974. Prior to this date, other materials had been used in external applications in the Oil &
Gas industry with varying levels of success and, in some cases, were found to lose the majority of their
fire protection capability due to leaching out of active ingredients after exposure to offshore weather
Essentially, the ingredients which cause fire protection materials to intumesce, and provide thermal
protection, are very similar across a broad spectrum of products. The binder in which these
intumescent ingredients are dispersed is the key to longevity and durability when considering fire
protection and corrosion resistance. A loss of performance over time can result in the costly need to reapply the Epoxy PFP or operators will run the risk of inadequate performance in the unfortunate event
of a fire.
Epoxy PFP has consistently proven to be superior with over 30 years of real time experience in severe
environments around the globe. For most of the life of an Epoxy PFP, the primary function is that of a
barrier coat to prevent the corrosion of the steel substrate and protection is required for the lifetime of
the facility.
However, this paper shows that all Epoxy PFP are not the same with regard to corrosion protection and
product stability under stress, particularly in environments described as C5-M as per ISO 12944. Topcoats cannot be relied upon to maintain the integrity of the Epoxy PFP, particularly considering that the
material is a safety critical element in the design. Inherent resistance of the Epoxy PFP to periodic
immersion and atmospheric weathering is therefore a pre-requisite when considering selection.
Keywords: Epoxy, Passive Fire Protection, Water resistance, Atmospheric weathering, film integrity

2011 by NACE International. Requests for permission to publish this manuscript in any form, in part or in whole, must be in writing to NACE
International, Publications Division, 1440 South Creek Drive, Houston, Texas 77084. The material presented and the views expressed in this paper are
solely those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association.

Millions of kilos of Epoxy PFP have been applied and in service, preserving oil and gas steel structures
around the world in the harshest of conditions and in varying climates (Arctic, Tropical, Temperate).
Properly formulated Epoxy Passive Fire Protection (Epoxy PFP) has been tried and tested in the real
world for over 30 years with no pre-mature corrosion failure where the appropriate system choice and
application practice has been correctly considered.

FIGURE 1: In service Epoxy PFP on the base of an FPSO flare tower

For most of the life of an Epoxy PFP, the primary function is that of a barrier coat to prevent the
corrosion of the steel substrate and protection thereafter for the lifetime of the facility. In a fire scenario
however the Epoxy PFP has to insulate the steel from reaching critical failure temperatures. The
expectation is that environmental weathering of the Epoxy PFP will not impede its fire protection ability.
Improper selection of Epoxy PFP however can result in cracking, blistering, delamination, disbondment,
reduction in mechanical properties (i.e. hardness) and most importantly a reduction in fire performance
which may result in inadequate steel protection in the event of a fire.
Many of the product issues that are present in the field can be related to the use of binder systems
which have a positive influence upon the efficiency of the product in fire testing, but compromise the
integrity of the system when exposed to environmental stresses (varying atmospheric conditions or
periodic immersion).
This paper is focused toward product considerations which need to be taken into account from a time
soon after the product is applied to the steel and then throughout its service life to ensure that a
performance can be assured for the lifetime of the asset.
Although not the primary focus of this paper, product consideration alone is not the only factor in
attaining the expected performance. Application and installation issues are many and are a significant
contributor to product performance both early in its design life and when in service.

There are a number of challenges which are critical to lifetime performance. These can be summarized
in the three main questions below:

What happens when different Epoxy PFP are exposed to water shortly after they are applied?


What happens when different Epoxy PFP are exposed to trapped water (or ponded water)
when in service?


What happens when different Epoxy PFP are exposed to prolonged atmospheric weathering?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid scenarios where periods of water immersion or standing water
occur during the period between Epoxy PFP application and construction and when in service.
Top-coating the Epoxy PFP could be thought of as a means to protect against the effects of water
exposure. In practice however, damage can occur during handling of the steel work. Upon
construction, preparation required for attachments and incomplete work in the coating yards often leads
to finish coats being damaged and missed. If top-coating of the Epoxy PFP is critical to its long term
performance then in-service maintenance of the top-coat is critical. Yet it is known that in reality such
maintenance cannot be relied upon (Figure 2).

Delamination of

Removal of

Damage of top-coat
Water ingress and
undercutting due to
Figure 2: Examples of why you cannot rely on the top-coat for Epoxy PFP for long term
corrosion and fire protection
It is therefore important to demonstrate that the integrity of the Epoxy PFP is not reliant upon the topcoat, particularly considering that the material is a safety critical element in the design. Inherent
resistance of the Epoxy PFP to water and atmospheric weathering therefore should not be underestimated.

There are many factors which impact upon the performance of a coating system and more particularly a
Epoxy PFP system. Some of these are related to product constituents. Key materials are ingredients
which react in a fire scenario to generate the char, as well as the material which is used to bind these
materials together in the ambient and fire state (in this paper referred to as the binder).
Many of the product issues that are present in the field can be related to the use of binder systems
which, as stated in the introduction, have a positive influence upon the efficiency of the product in fire
testing, but compromise the integrity of the system when exposed to environmental stresses (varying
atmospheric conditions or periodic immersion). This leads to early product failures, which are clear to
the unaided eye, or significantly increased maintenance costs due to a shortened service life.
Maintenance could either be required to ensure the corrosion protection and fire protection of the steel
in the event of a fire.
The selection of a particular Epoxy PFP material at the time of construction can be driven purely by
product and installation costs. However should the wrong selection be made, the value saved from
application is extremely small compared with the exceptionally high cost of replacing / maintaining
materials offshore in a complicated and hazardous operating environment. It should also be noted that
the savings due to PFP application is also small in comparison with the overall cost of the installation.

This paper presents the results from a series of tests on four commercially available Epoxy PFP
products (hereon referred to as Products A to D). The tests were selected to address the challenges
mentioned earlier in this paper and were representative of generating the type of failure observed in the
Challenge one was answered by looking at the performance of Epoxy PFP when exposed to cure
durations as little as 2 hours from the point of application. The performance was determined by
evaluating how the film visually changed, nail hardness changed and fire performance varied against
films which had not been exposed to water. This was to simulate the effect of removing steel protected
by Epoxy PFP from the painting shop or tent and exposing it to the elements.
Challenge two was considered by using full immersion of samples in distilled water for time periods of 1
and 7 days. Water-uptake was measured to determine how easily water penetrated the film ultimately
compromising corrosion resistance and film integrity. Films were also assessed visually as to their
Challenge three was assessed by exposing selected products to accelerated weathering tests
recognized in the offshore industry1 and with correlation to exterior exposure (Refer to appendix 2).
Corrosion resistance was evaluated by looking at creep from the scribe, film integrity was evaluated by
pull off adhesion tests and Shore D hardness and fire tests were conducted on aged panels to
determine the insulation effectiveness after weathering against a control.


Details of the experiments undertaken in this paper can be found in appendix 1.
Exposure to Water Early on in the Lifetime of the Fire Protection
The graph (Figure 3) highlights the marked difference in properties observed from the four products
tested. The graph shows the cure period required to attain the performance of a control (a panel which
had not been exposed to water). The fire performance was determined by comparing the time taken for
the exposed panel and control panel to reach 400oC. This is the temperature at which steel starts to
lose its strength and taken as the default temperature in the offshore industry when determining the fire
protection thickness.
In the case of Product A, 6 days cure was required to achieve the expected performance of the product
in a state which would have been used for certification. For cure periods earlier than this there is no
recovery in the fire performance irrespective of the time to condition the samples after immersion.
For Product C, the tests indicate that the Epoxy PFP would be fit for purpose after just 4 hours cure. A
critical property when fire protection is required in the tidal zone and application has to be undertaken
The tests show that prior to a certain cure period (Product dependent) fire performance does not
recover when films are exposed to water early on in their life-time.

% variance in time to reach 400C from control

Variation in time to reach 400C steel temperature when exposed to

a High Rise Hydrocarbon time / temperature test










Time films cured prior to immersion (hours)
Product A

Product B

Product C

Product D

Figure 3: The impact of 24 hours immersion on the ultimate fire performance after various cure

Visual inspection of the better performing films also gives an indication of relative breakdown in the film
integrity (Figure 4). A lightening of the film is due to an increase in light scattering. This is most likely
due to a breakdown in the bond between the resin and particle / fiber in the product or water inclusion
leaving a void upon drying particularly where material has been extracted.
Product C;

Product D;

Product B

Product C;

Product D;

Product B

Figure 4: Colour change and breakdown of the films exposed to water after various cure
periods due to water uptake (24 hours water saturated cloths on a section of film)
Here it can be seen that Product B is affected to a much greater degree than the other two products.
Even after 8 hours there is still significant lightening and the mechanical properties (finger nail
hardness) of the film had weakened significantly.

Exposure to Trapped, Standing or Ponded Water

The graph (Figure 5) shows a large variation in water-uptake for the products tested over this limited
time period.
% Water uptake with time in fresh water at ambient



% uptake

Product A
Product B


Product C
Product D



Time (days)

Figure 5: Comparison of Water uptake as a function of time immersed

For product A the water uptake was so large that the material fell apart during the test showing poor
integrity. Others became more plasticized, giving a spongy feel (such as Product B), as water was
taken up. For both these products, the observations could be correlated with field observations made
when these products were using in offshore environments.
The Effect of Wet / Dry Cycling on the hardness of Epoxy PFP
In the above test only one immersion cycle was used, however it is well known2 that repeated
immersion / dry cycling of epoxy coatings causes a gradual build up of stress leading to an even faster
breakdown of properties. In the worst case the increased stress leads to macro-cracking and
disbondment. The process can be described below:

Internal stress (rigidity) increases upon each wet / dry cycle:

Initially upon curing, the coating vitrifies at the cure temperature causing the rate of reaction
to slow significantly and further property development to be impaired.

Upon water exposure, the film is plasticized and further reaction is facilitated.

During a dry period, the coating dries causing the stress in the film to increase

The process is repeated as the film is exposed to further wet / dry cycles

The important question to ask Epoxy PFP manufacturers is, How do the physical properties of the film
(flexibility, adhesion, cohesion) vary as a function of wet / dry cycling? Most products are sold on the
basis of the properties of the virgin material (based upon performance shortly after application when
property development was fully developed) and this can be mis-leading when making a judgment on
the long term performance. However the change in product properties with time in an environment can
be more important than the initial properties of the materials.
To explore the above, all four products were exposed to the accelerated weathering cycles described in
ISO 20340 and then subject to tests to explore the integrity of the film upon exposure to these stresses.
Tests chosen were Shore D hardness, compared against specimens not weathered and ISO4624 pull
off tests.


Figure 6: Hardness Loss as a function of 25 weeks ISO20340 cycling (Product B exposed for 4
The results in Figure 6 show a marked loss in hardness for some products. Products C and D show
minimal impact in product properties before and after aging however for products A and B the hardness
of the films were markedly affected.
This hardness reduction, which reflects in reduction of the cohesive strength, results in negative impact
to the coating material integrity in the field. Product A with the highest hardness reduction was
described as falling apart on some installations whereas Product B with the second highest reduction
was described as spongy. Both products have been replaced by another Epoxy PFP as a

Exposure to Atmospheric Weathering

Accelerated weathering tests
ISO 20340 testing was undertaken to determine the impact of atmospheric environmental weathering
on Epoxy PFP. Cycling tests, such as this, have become recognized as having a greater correlation to
exterior weathering than continuous tests such as Hot Salt Spray (ISO7253; ASTM B117). The test
has been used to evaluate the performance of PFP, particularly in off-shore environments. The
justification for the use of this test, when assessing the impact of atmospheric weathering on film
integrity, corrosion resistance and fire performance in relation to Epoxy PFP, can be found in appendix
Table 1 summarises the properties of Epoxy PFP when subjected to ISO 20340 cycling.

Product A

Product B

Product C

Product D

<3mm on zinc
epoxy primer

<8mm on zinc
phosphate epoxy

Not evaluated





Could not be
measured due to

Adhesion (MPa)
>3MPa (industry
requirement for
Epoxy PFP)1

Table 1
Film Properties after 25 weeks ISO20340 cycling
From table 1, one of the better performing systems, which also showed good properties when
considering water resistance and hardness reduction (Product C), was prepared for ISO 20340 cycling
testing to determine if after atmospheric weathering, fire performance and film integrity was maintained.

Panel reference

ISO4624 pull off test result


Type of failure
100% Cohesive failure
100% Cohesive failure

Figure 7: Product C (no top-coat as per Norsok M501 revision 5 system 5A) Corrosion
performance around the scribe and Pull off test performance after ISO20340 cycling for 25
The panel in Figure 7 shows the performance of Product C when applied to a zinc epoxy primer. The
Pull-off test (>3 MPa) and corrosion creep (<3mm) are in accordance with the requirement for
ISO20340 for a system suitable for a C5M environment (the pull off value prior to testing being
It is the authors opinion that if the products function for most of its lifetime is corrosion protection, there
should be consistency between that demanded for good anti-corrosive schemes and anti-corrosive
schemes utilizing Epoxy PFP. Pull off testing is a good indicator of whether the films have reduced in
integrity and may be used as acceptance criterion for pre-qualification of systems. Values recorded for
Product C of 5 MPa show that the film integrity meets the required performance standard of good anticorrosion systems for the offshore industry.
The results confirm that it is possible to meet industry expected performance without the need for topcoats from Epoxy PFP. From the results displayed in Figure 7 the expected corrosion performance and
film integrity is in-line with that expected for a suitable anti-corrosive system for offshore environments.


The impact of a poorly performing Epoxy PFP on the corrosion resistance can be seen in Figure 8.
Here Products A (poor performance) and C (good performance) were tested simultaneously in
accordance with the cyclic test in ISO 20340. The products were applied to a zinc phosphate primer in
this instance and the corrosion creep compared. The test was run for a period of 12 weeks (less than
half the duration required by industry standard pre-qualification testing1). Removal of the coating
system from the steel showed a large difference in performance. Product A is reported to have greater
flexibility than Product C in its virgin state, however the stress generated at the coating steel interface
during the cycling test gave 15mm corrosion creep at the scribe in comparison with Product C giving
2mm. This is further evidence that wet-dry cycling can have a marked impact on internal stress
After 25 weeks Product A had blistered, displayed a soft film to the nail, and was swollen.

Figure 8: ISO 20340 cycling for 12 weeks over a Non zinc epoxy primer. a) Product C, b)
Product A
Where there is a risk of extensive undercutting of the Epoxy PFP at localized damaged areas, this
could have a major impact on fire performance. Small areas of damage (similar to the defect placed in
the film for ISO 20340 cycling) often do not lead to a general failure of a structural steel element.
However, if corrosion under the Epoxy PFP causes detachment of larger areas in a fire scenario, the
risk of structural collapse increases.
Industry standard pre-qualification requirement1 for the maintenance of fire performance was evaluated.
The requirement was that the temperature of test plates (exposed to 25 weeks ISO20340 accelerated
weathering cycling) should be no greater than 10% higher than control specimens applied and fire
tested at the same time as the test specimens. Product C passes this requirement whereas for Product
A a variance of 30% was observed. This would lead to a significant reduction in time prior to structural
The tests give confidence that for some products (Product C in this case) fire performance can be
maintained as well as maintaining good corrosion protection and film integrity after exterior weathering.


The tests reported in this paper show that all Epoxy PFP are not the same when it comes to robustness
of performance during application, construction and in-service.
Correctly formulated Epoxy PFP can give excellent corrosion performance and consistency in material
properties over the lifetime of the asset ensuring protection of the asset and personnel in the event of
This was specifically shown for Product C and D. Water-uptake, impact upon early water exposure,
hardness reduction and requirement for ISO20340 all showed there was minimal property loss upon
environmental exposure. For Product C it was further showed that the film integrity requirements of a
good anti-corrosion system could also be achieved by Epoxy PFP and that the fire performance was
not impaired after weathering.
Tests highlighted in the report were in good agreement with an exterior exposure study conducted on
the same technology platform as Product C indicating that the accelerated tests were a reasonable
basis for assessment of passive fire protection.
Field failure reported was in agreement with test results of some of the products tested in this paper
suggesting product properties could be the contributing factor.
Serious thought needs to be given to the exceptionally high cost of replacing materials offshore and
hence the need for appropriate product evaluation and selection needs to be given serious


1. Norsok M501 revision 5 (2004) Surface Preparation and Protective Coating
2. O Negele and W Funke; Internal stress and wet adhesion of organic coatings; Progress in
organic coatings 28 (1996) 285-289
3. T.A. Roberts, L.C. Shirvill, K. Waterton, I. Buckland; Fire resistance of passive fire protection
coatings after long-term weathering; Process Safety and Environmental Protection 88 ( 2010 )


Exposure to Water Early on in the Lifetime of Epoxy PFP
Samples were cured at laboratory ambient temperatures (15-25oC). Film thickness was constant for all
samples tested and representative of a thickness for 1 hour fire duration (6mm). Films were prepared
on 300x300mm steel panels for fire testing and 150x100mm glass panels for visual inspection.
Panels were exposed to 24 hour immersion (ISO2812-1 full immersion) in distilled water after differing
periods of cure to assess the impact on the fire performance. The Epoxy PFP samples were
conditioned, after immersion for 2 weeks (film properties not deemed to improve after this period), at
laboratory ambient temperature prior to fire testing in accordance with ISO834 (hydrocarbon high rise
curve) and visual assessment.
For visual assessment, clothes saturated in distilled water were placed over a portion of the sample for
a period of 24 hours (so a comparison of wet and dry areas could be made).
Exposure to Trapped, Standing or Ponded Water
ASTM D570-98 (2005) was used to assess the comparative water-uptake properties of Epoxy PFP
after 1 weeks cure at laboratory ambient conditions (15-25oC). This was to simulate typical film
conditions prior to an extended immersion period. Free films at 6mm dry film thickness were prepared
and immersed in distilled water for periods up to 7 days. This was viewed as representative of the
exposure that could be observed in the field.
The weight of the swollen films at each time period was adjusted for any extracted material to gain a
true reflection of the water uptake on the remaining film weight after immersion.
The effect of wet / dry cycling on the hardness of Epoxy PFP
Films were applied at 6mm dry film thickness and cured at laboratory ambient temperature (15-25oC).
Steel thickness was constant for all samples at 5mm.
Shore D hardness was compared to determine if the film integrity was being adversely affected with
environmental weathering. Loss in hardness was presented as % loss with respect to the nonweathered sample applied at the same time. Both non weathered and weathered samples were tested
at the same time interval after application.
Exposure to Atmospheric Weathering
ISO 20340 cycling (used in Norsok MCR 501 revision 5, System 5A) was conducted to assess:

Corrosion resistance when damaged

Impact on cohesion and adhesion of the system upon aging

Maintenance of fire performance after extended environmental aging (specific to Norsok M501
revision 5)

The worst performing system (Product A) was also prepared to determine the variation in corrosion
resistance which could be observed.
Panels were prepared by applying 6mm of Epoxy PFP to zinc epoxy primed, grit blasted mild steel.
150x100mm panels were prepared for the corrosion and film integrity assessment (pull off testing) and


300x300mm panels were prepared for verification of the fire performance. The panels were of
sufficient thickness so as to conduct pull-off testing. The films were allowed to cure for a period greater
than 2 weeks prior to testing.
The ISO 20340 cycle consists of a QUVA (ASTM G53) / hot salt spray (ASTM B117) / Freezing (-20C)
exposure. One cycle consisting of 72 hours UV, high condensation / 72 hours hot salt spray / 16 hours
freeze. A period of 25 cycles is taken as the default period from the standard.
The Epoxy PFP was allowed to condition after immersion for 2 weeks prior to fire testing in accordance
with ISO834 (high rise hydrocarbon curve) and visual assessment.



There are many elements to atmospheric weathering which need to be taken into account. This topic
has been subject to much research leading to improved standards such as ISO 20340 and Norsok
M501. In general this has been due to the recognition that cyclic test protocols are more representative
of exterior weathering performance than continuous condensation or salt spray testing. In considering
this paper, the failure mechanisms (film integrity and at damaged areas) observed in the real world
have been compared to these accelerated test options.
The question however is whether these tests are directly applicable to fire protection, specifically Epoxy
PFP where research has been less thorough particularly in relation film integrity and fire performance.
The following outlines a test program and observations which support the relevancy of these cyclic
testing protocols.
Epoxy PFP without top-coat was observed after 10 years for breakdown failure mechanisms. The
study was undertaken by a major oil company and the Health and Safety Executivie (HSE) in the UK.
Several passive fire protection schemes were tested with top-coat, however for selected Epoxy PFP, a
10 year duration without top coat was evaluated at a coastal exterior weathering site in the UK and the
products were assessed for visual effects and fire performance after weathering (Figure 9a and 9b).
The binder system and fire protection ingredients can be viewed as comparable with Product C in this
study. Product C being a newer version of the same technology platform.
Corrosion and film integrity observations
No rusting or blistering was apparent, however the surface did show evidence of surface micro-cracking
consistent with some versions of Epoxy PFP tested under Norsok cycling or ISO 20340 cycling after
extended durations. This type of failure is not observed in continuous hot salt spray testing.
For aesthetic reasons, manufacturers recommended to top-coat with a durable finish. This is confirmed
in this study, however as stated before the performance should not be reliant upon the integrity of the
top-coat for performance.
Defects applied to the films were assessed for corrosion. No corrosion was apparent either from the
edges or from deliberately induced defects and the coating could not be removed easily from the steel.
As stated in the introduction, for most of the life of an Epoxy PFP system, corrosion prevention of steel
is the primary function. As such it should perform the same function of a good anti-corrosion paint
system. Norsok M501 pre-qualification (the only protocol covering fire performance for the offshore
industry) specifically considers these aspects in the absence of a top-coat, re-enforcing that the Epoxy
PFP has to be inherently resilient to environmental weathering.
Fire performance observations
From Figure 9c it can be observed that the 1st standard deviation of the temperature of control plates at
60 minutes for Epoxy PFP was approximately 10% either side of the mean variance. Fire testing the
plates under pool fire and jet fire (higher heat load and erosive with respect to pool fire) conditions
after 10 years exposure showed no statistically significant change in fire performance (Figures 9c and
9d). This is consistent with the pre-qualification requirement for Norsok M501 revision 5 which states
the temperature of weathered specimens are to be within 10% of the control specimens.
The technology platform for Product C shows that the fire performance is maintained upon exterior
weathering in accordance with industry accepted pre-qualification requirements1.


Figure 9: a) Panel with deliberately induced damage b) Holyhead weathering site c) furnace test
mean temperature data d) jet fire test mean temperature data3



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