Can This New Metal Material Create Unsinkable Boats & Fuel-Efficient Cars?

We’ve all heard of lightweight construction materials (Read: Lightweight Construction Materials: The Uses and Challenges), but what if there was ametal so light that it would prevent boats from sinking in the water?


Well, that’s exactly what a team of U.S. researchers set out to do, and the results have even broader applications than just sailing vessels. Researchers at Deep Springs Technology and the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering have created a lightweight metal matrix syntactic foam material that has a density of just 0.92g/cm3 and is reinforced with hollow silicon carbide particles. Studies have shown that although it’s less dense than water, it’s strong enough to survive hazardous ocean travel.

“The ability of metals to withstand higher temperatures can be a huge advantage for these composites in engine and exhaust components, quite apart from structural parts,” shared Nikhil Gupta, co-author of the research study.

But this type of metal composite isn’t just useful on ships; it also shows promise on land, in the automotive industry. Ultra-lightweight metals could make cars more fuel-efficient by transforming their exhaust and engine systems.


And this isn’t a one-size-fits-all metal either. The researchers say that the new metal will be able to be customized for different uses and environments. Industry professionals would just need to add more or less shells into the metal mixture to accommodate different needs.

Also notable, this research is affiliated with the United States Army Research Laboratory and may be useful in creating strong, lightweight, and efficient military vehicle armor. The U.S. military has had a long-standing interest in developing amphibious vehicles that can perform equally well on both land and water. This metal material could be the key to amphibious vehicles’ success, such as the U.S. Marine Corps’ Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector. Syntactic foam materials must be incredibly lightweight and buoyant to have this type of dual-application and pass all relevant safety and efficiency standards.

According to Engineering & Technology Magazine, “A single carbide sphere’s shell can withstand pressure of over 25,000 pounds per square inch before it breaks – the equivalent of one hundred times the maximum pressure in a fire hose.”

Industry experts estimate that the new metal could be ready for prototypes and testing as soon as within the next three years. To learn more about this promising new metal, check out the published findings titled “Dynamic Properties of Silicon Carbide Hollow Particle Filled Magnesium Alloy (AZ91D) Matrix Syntactic Foams” in the International Journal of Impact Engineering.

Photo credit: jimflix! and John C Bullas BSc MSc via Flickr.

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