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A number of my.IS Roundtable threads deal with potential breakthroughs in ultra-light vehicle construction materials. Some have led to a number of follow-up posts. Others have turned out to be vaporware. Let's see how this one does:

Super-Light Metal Could Underpin Vehicles
By Leah Germain and M.J. Deschamps -

Cars could be built with material that is
99.99% air.

A new metal structure developed by U.S. scientists, so light it dramatically cuts down drag and improves fuel efficiency one hundredfold, could find its way into vehicles someday.

Claiming it is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam, an innovative new material called a micro-lattice has been developed by the California Institute of Technology, HRL Laboratories, based in Malibu, CA, and the University of California-Irvine.

Based on a crisscross lattice structure on a micro-scale, the material is made up of a series of tiny, hollow nickel-phosphorous tubes angled to connect at nodes, which form repeating, asterisk-like unit cells in three dimensions.

The micro-lattice’s unique structure consists of 99.99% air, and just 0.01% material. The tubes have a wall thickness of 100 nanometers – 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Bill Carter, manager of architected materials group at HRL, tells WardsAuto a key focus for the material will be its potential application in automotive technologies. By replacing primary structures in cars and airplanes with micro-lattice, manufacturers will be able to produce lighter and more fuel-efficient products, he says.

The material also is tough, Carter says in a statement, noting that while the metal is ultra-low in density it absorbs energy well because of its lattice design. He compares the micro-lattice to the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge.

Those structures “are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures,” Carter says. “We are revolutionizing lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the materials level and designing their architectures at the nano and micro scales.”

The material’s cellular architecture also gives it unprecedented mechanical behavior for a metal, which includes a complete recovery from compression – exceeding 50% strain – and an extremely high level of energy absorption, the researchers say.

And of course, “it’s also very light,” adds Julia Greer, an assistant professor of materials science and mechanics at Caltech and a member of the development team. “Any kind of internal car component that is not super-light or made out of a heavy metal could be replaced with micro-lattice.

There are certain parts of the frame components that also could be replaced.

“The traditional bulk metal (used in automobile frames) could become micro-lattice because it is just as stiff, but one-hundredth of the weight.”

The metal structure was developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which commissions advanced research for the U.S. Department of Defense. However, the government is not the only party eager to take advantage of this innovation.

Lorenzo Valdevit, a UC-Irvine mechanical and aerospace engineer, says HRL Laboratories’ parent companies, General Motors and Boeing, are extremely interested in this new technology.

“The most relevant thing about this discovery (is that) it’s not just the application we have in mind today. It’s that this presents a platform so we can change the way material design is done” in the future, he says.

“Depending on the application we have in mind, we can think of changing the architecture to optimize” micro-lattice.

The development team now is looking at the next step in the micro-lattice project, creating nano-lattice that has less air. The idea is to take the structure form of micro-lattice and turn it into a more solid material form.

“What we want to make is an amazing material, where all the stress measures are within a nanometer dimension and it will be an actual monolithic material,” Greer says.

Super-Light Metal Could Underpin Vehicles

This micro-lattice technology also seems to have the potential of morphing into a nano-lattice that might fit the definition of nanotechnology, as discussed in this Roundtable thread:
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