Starlite could be the most valuable man-made substance ever created. It has the potential to revolutionise industries, save lives and change the course of human history. The applications for it are near infinite, no scientific mind has ever been able to work out how it works – and yet it has never actually been used for anything.
So what does it do, and why have you never heard of it? Starlite was invented during the 1980s by the unlikely Maurice Ward, a ladies' hairdresser from Yorkshire.
It's a plastic that's able to withstand heat to an almost unimaginable degree. Ward never revealed how it was made, saying merely that it contained 'up to 21 organic polymers and copolymers, and small quantities of ceramics'.
In lab tests, it has withstood the heat from a nuclear flash. It can endure temperatures three times hotter than the melting point of diamonds. And it can be shaped and molded into almost any form.
Starlite attracted a lot of attention during the '90s after it made an appearance on the BBC's Tomorrows World programme. An egg was painted with starlite and then blasted with a blowtorch at 2,500 degrees Celsius. After several minutes, the surface of the egg was barely lukewarm, and the egg was totally uncooked inside.
"We wanted to create something that wouldn't burn and was halogen free," Ward told the BBC in 2010, suggesting Starlite could be used to solve the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe.
"In under a couple of years we created something and had it tested at ICI. By 1990 we produced a material that was out of this world, it didn't burn, it didn't produce smoke and it intensified on its strength and its abilities."
"We don't still quite understand how it works," said Ronald Mason, scientific advisor for the Ministry of Defence at the time. "But that it works is undoubtedly the case. I started this path with Maurice being very very skeptical of it. I became totally convinced of the reality of the claims".
Ward was so paranoid about the formula for Starlite being reverse engineered, he would never allow anyone to keep a sample, and his financial demands of anyone who wanted to use Starlite – including NASA and US and UK military – proved fatal to his efforts. He flat-out refused permission for anyone to license it, and in 2013, 30 years after it was invented, Starlite has never left the lab. Ward sadly died in 2011, and no one really knows what has happened to the formula. Some say his family keep it locked away, others claim it was a huge hoax the whole time.
So what exactly would Starlite be good for if it was ever deployed? We've come up with 10 ways in which Starlite could change the world we live in…
One hugely obvious application for this technology is in the construction of highly populated buildings like the ill-fated World Trade Centre in New York City. If the steel beams and support structures had been fireproofed with Starlite, it's highly likely that the buildings would never have collapsed. Deploying Starlight in the construction of floors and walls would also have limited the spread of the fire, enabling more people to escape, also preventing the release of toxic fumes that gave many people no chance of survival.
2. Hot and cold climates
Imagine painting the outside of buildings in hot climates with Starlite, or incorporating it into building materials. It's such an effective insulator, it would be possible to keep buildings cool with minimal or even no air conditioning. Likewise, you could do the opposite – you could theoretically paint the inside of an Igloo with it and then light a fire inside – the igloo wouldn't melt but you'd be toasty warm.