Micro-lattice, a new metal structure that could find its way into vehicles someday

Article by Christian A., on January 2, 2012

Micro-lattice is the name of the very light metal structure that American scientists developed to significantly reduce drag and boost fuel efficiency by about a hundred times. The California Institute of Technology, the University of California-Irvine, and HRL Laboratories (based in Malibu, CA) had developed this new material, which is claimed to be around 100 times lighter than styrofoam. The material is based on a crisscross lattice structure on a micro-scale.

The material is composed of a chain of tiny, hollow nickel-phosphorous tubes that form an angle to link at the nodes, which make identical asterisk-like unit cells in three dimensions. The unique structure of the micro-lattice is composed of 99.99% air and only 0.01% material.

The wall of the tubes is as thick as 100 nanometers, which means that it is thinner than a human hair by 1,000 times. In an interview with WardsAuto, Bill Carter, the manager of architected materials group at HRL, said that a key focus for the material is its potential application in automotive technologies.

He said that by using micro-lattice in cars and airplanes instead of primary structures, manufacturers can offer products that are lighter and are more fuel-efficient. In a statement, Carter said that this material is tough as well, explaining that due to its lattice design, the metal is ultra-low in density and it is capable of absorbing energy well.

He said that the micro-lattice is comparable to the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, which are “incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures.” He added that the research on lightweight materials is revolutionized by “bringing this concept to the materials level” and with designs being at the nano and micro scales. The researchers said that the cellular architecture of the micro-lattice provides it with “unprecedented mechanical behavior for a metal.”

These include a total recovery from compression (surpassing 50% strain) as well as an incredibly high level of energy absorption. Julia Greer, a part of the development team and an assistant professor of materials science and mechanics at Caltech, said that micro-lattice may replace any type of internal car component that is not super-light or built of a heavy metal.

It may also replace some parts of the frame components. Micro-lattice may be used instead of the traditional bulk metal (used in automobile frames) since it offers the same stiffness but is one-hundredth of the weight. [source: Ward's Auto]

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