Researchers at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have created a super strong, lightweight form of foam that could change the world.
3D printing has allowed us to revisit the world of material science and change the structures of materials we know and love. We’re just at the start of the Bell Curve and we’re looking forward to a raft of radical changes to materials that will open up a world of opportunities.
This is not the foam you know
This new foam allows for a combination of plastic, metals, ceramics and composite materials. So it isn’t even close to the foam we have in our sofas and mattresses at home. Different compounds and structures can make for a lightweight and supremely strong substance, though. They can also come with a variety of strengths that include thermal and electrical conductivity, as well as desirable mechanical properties.
This new material could change the way we build cars, planes, trains and even spaceships, as it could allow us to move to a monocoque and integral bodyshell. This will save weight, which is better for fuel consumption and could also make the whole structure stronger.
“The foam structures have the potential to become a platform technology, driving innovations across key industries and markets,” said Masdar Institute’s Dr. Steve Griffiths, Vice President for Research. “This project demonstrates how Masdar Institute’s strong advanced materials research capabilities support disruptive technology-based innovations in the Institute’s core research areas of water and energy while benefiting other sectors of importance to the UAE.”
This will take years to truly figure out
Porosity can be closely controlled, which means these foams have applications when it comes to filtration, gas outlet systems and there is just so much more that it could take years to find out just what this foam is truly capable of.
The key to its strength lies in the internal geometry. The team has taken inspiration from cellular biology and even the Eifel Tower, as each foam cell has struts and braces. That means what once had to be solid metal can now be 90% air and the materials can be combined to play to the strength of each part of the compound.
“We are not creating new materials. Rather, we are re-architecting a given material, such as steel or plastic, by manipulating its internal geometry so that we can deliver the desired properties, whether stiffness, electrical conductivity, or porosity, to the material,” Griffiths added.
The software is basic, but it’s here
The Institute already has a functional software model that allows the team to put in the desired properties of the particular foam, right down to the electrical conductivity and the stiffness. The software then generates the right design and compound and feeds it too the 3D printer.
The researchers are now working with a variety of companies to prove the concept and secure the funding needed to turn this into a commercial venture. With the UAE’s recent commitment to 3D printing and the massive scope this discovery offers, we expect that to happen sooner rather than later.
A vast amount of research that will have to go into this foam. We always knew that this kind of breakthrough was coming, though, as a result of 3D printing. We’re excited by this one and we think it could have a real impact on all of our lives.
It is a gamechanger
It isn’t just the structural aspect, this foam could desalinate seawater or clean river water for impoverished communities.
It could also sit in your car exhaust and remove every trace of greenhouse gas, if car’s still have exhausts by then.
“The foam structures could be used to maximise gas flow, and increase the conversion efficiency of catalytic converters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from car engines,” said Oraib Al-Ketan, a PhD student working with Dr. Abu Al-Rub.
We know there’s more to this story and we’ll be checking in regularly. Be under no illusion, this foam is huge news.