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In a documentary on Russian submarines they show non-flammable furniture that's made of some kind of plastic of foam. They test/demonstrate it with a blowtorch that is capable of cutting metal (they say it's set at 2000°C), and eventually the furniture panel melts/deforms, but doesn't burn, although the paint on it does smoke a bit.

What materials could this be made of? (I see there's a Wikipedia article on fire-safe polymers, but there's not much said there what temperatures the various compounds discussed can withstand.

A bit more googling finds a fairly similar demo, claiming the same 2000°C albeit using a flamethrower on an aerogel panel, so I guess the question is more not so specific to some military. To wit this is a "large fiberglass blanket infused with silica aerogel", so I guess the only question is which such materials can be rigid and strong enough to make furniture.

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Source 1 - Polysulfone (PSU) Plastic has one of the highest service temperatures among all melt-processable thermoplastics, combined with high-temperature resistance and inherent flame retardance.

PSU is tough and stable at high temperatures, and actually shares a lot of the same traits as polycarbonate plastic.

These fundamental traits make PSU used for specialty applications, like electrical equipment, vehicle construction, and medical technology due to its ability to withstand autoclaves. Its melting point is over 932° F (500°C), which makes it extremely difficult to melt, but also very difficult to intentionally process with heat. It will maintain all of its impact resistance between -212°F (100°C) and 203°F (150°C), and gradually weakens outside of this range.

Source 2 - Rods of ‘low-density‘ polyethylene, ‘high-density‘ polyethylene and polymethylmethacrylate were burned in a candle-like manner in air. Directly above the melt there was a thin non-luminous gap, and the flame consisted of a roughly cylindrical blue zone on top of which was a sooty yellow cone. The surface temperature was about 400°C and the maximum flame temperature about 700°C.

Note, other than burning temperature, the burning time required to melt the plastic is very important too.

https://www.acmeplastics.com/content/the-best-engineering-plastics-for-extreme-heat/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0010218069900893#

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  1. Russian submarines really need non-flammable stuff because the Russian Navy isn't skilled at damage control. Damage Control requires skilled enlisted men, and the Russian Navy is built around skilled officers. This has nothing to do with engineering and everything to do with me being a former US Navy Submarine officer. See the Losharik, the Yekaterinburg, K-8, K-219, K-278...

  2. Fire-safe polymers are a thing as you note in the question. Aerogel is very fire-resistant, this might just be that in some type of matrix. Whether or not those polymers are actually good for use in a submarine is another thing entirely. How does it melt? What fumes are given off? Is it even structurally sound? It's easy to show off one characteristic of a material. But if Russia had a great fire-proof plastic I doubt they would keep it to themselves just to use it for submarine furniture. They would license it and sell it across the globe.

I don't really like this answer - it feels more like a Quora answer than SE Engineering. But we really can't answer what a mystery material could be, especially when they pointedly don't really want us to know. The whole thing might just be a propaganda thing to prop up some RU government group. Plenty of TV shows purporting to show ghosts (as an example) when they really don't.

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    $\begingroup$ Most common temp resistant aerogel can be better thought of as a ceramic - silica. People usually think carbon polymer when thinking plastic. $\endgroup$
    – Abel
    Sep 17 '21 at 22:48
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Thermoset plastics can take pretty high temps. this is opposed to the more common thermoplastics which are easy to melt and use again (although they do deteriorate with each cycle). I suggest looking through what's out there in various catalogs.

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