Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bubble Metal

I've been using bubble metals in my books ever since Gridlinked, and since I read an article concerning foamed metals. The basic idea was predicated on what could be produced in zero gravity manufacturing. If you foam a metal with an inert gas on Earth the bubbles will rise to the top so the distribution will be uneven. Do it in zero gravity and you have much more control over the process. Here's a new take on the idea: 

A new material is tested to cut the weight of ships by 30 percent. For an average sized freight vessel with a capacity of 7000 m³ this corresponds to a weight reduction of more than 1000 tons. Researchers from Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology in Chemnitz, Germany, have experimented with an aluminum powder that foams when heated up (Jan '11)

The new material is lighter than water and has a high stiffness. Within seconds a cube made from aluminum starts to inflate into the shape of a sponge under the impact of heat. The secret of this reaction lies in the compounds of the new material. The metal is a mixture of aluminum and titanium hydride powder, which acts as a blowing agent just like yeast makes dough rise.

The aim of the researchers from the EU research project CREATING was to find a processing method to build large aluminum foam sandwich plates. These compounds could eventually replace steel plates of a vessel. To form such sandwich compounds, the powder is initially pressed into bars. The bars are then placed between two steel sheets and heated in an oven. At a temperature of more than 650° Celsius the new material expands and bonds with the steel sheets without the help of any adhesives.

Consider the implications for aero industries too. I wonder about the possibilities of foaming a metal with helium...


Graeme said...

It's basically the same chemistry set that gives us foamed concrete blocks.

And if I remember my Tomorows World correctly, they were playing with foamed conrecte and rubberiesd Concrete (without any actual rubber involved), when I was a titch.

Seems like a very long lag between developments. Makes you wonder how many advances we could have made if we didn't spend so much money on petty wars, and other countries internal problem?

Neal Asher said...

If we weren't spending so much wealth on killing each other, and on pointless scares, we'd be walking on Mars by now.

Graeme said...

Agreed. Lets all sit back and watch the new super scare develop. A few weeks ago it was the institute of mechanical engineers report on over population and scarcity of resources, and now a bigger report from a bigger body on impending food shortages.

So I reckon this must be the replacement for Man Made Global Warming and Climate Change, a new scare for new decade.

And all the muppets that just watch one stream of news will yet again be taken in, and a whole new breed of selfish will be born, it's like we're willing ourselves into extinction.

Neal Asher said...

Yeah, the Malthusians are out in force again. Top ones like Ehrlich shouting their mouths of again despite a zero success rate on all his previous predictions. Then, on top of the climate change bullshit we now have the acidification of the oceans.

However, the world population doubling in just a few decades is something to be concerned about. The pressure that puts on the world environment is definitely a growing problem and one environmentalists are ignoring in favour of the CO2 nonsense.

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

Foamed concrete isn't a new idea; the Roman architectural engineers used pumice (naturally foamed volcanic material) extensively to make lighter-weight concretes. Most of the upper sections of Roman ampitheatres have greater or lesser amounts of pumice in them, depending n how high up the building they were (pumice lightens the mix, but makes it less strong).

Concrete was actually a very large part of Roman architecture, once developed; they didn't much like the look of it so faced it with brick and tile, but it was extremely convenient for rapidly building something with (especially in earthquake zones; dead easy to repair)

Nuno said...

Dan, in this particular case, aluminum keeps its stiffness, which is an incredible technological advancement -- foamed concrete, as you said, is lighter but less strong. You guys know if research on foamed concrete has been fruitful?

Neal, there's this recent National Geographic article about world demographics that I found extremely interesting and I think you may like ( We can probably expect about 9000 million souls in 2045 and sub-replacement fertility levels by 2030, which are good news. In my opinion, though, the relevant question is: will a 29% increase in population represent the same relative increase of resources consumed? I don't think so, unless we, as a species, change profoundly and very fast (not likely). To sum things up, although doubling the world population in this century is unlikely, its increase will, as you said, put (unbearable?) pressure in the environment.