Future Tech

Boeing to build airplanes using super-light metal which is 99.9% air

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  • October 14, 2015

Despite being as light as a feather, a new metal could make aeroplanes more fuel efficient and even help carry humans to Mars.

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Engineers at Boeing have developed a revolutionary metal that could be used to make airplane components while being light enough to sit on top of a dandelion.

Microlattice has what Boeing calls an ‘open 3D cellular structure’. It’s rigid on the outside, but with a mostly hollow cellular structure in the middle – much like human bones, which are lightweight yet strong.

The material, which is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam, is 99.9% hollow as it’s made from made from a series of interconnected tubes, each 100 nanometers wide – that’s 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Despite its light weight, the metal is exceptionally strong so can absorb energy and handle compression.

Sophia Yang, research scientist at HRL Laboratories, which is working on the venture with Boeing, says microlattice could protect an egg from breaking if thrown off a 25-storey building. Check out the video below to find out more.

Boeing believes microlattice could be used to make aeroplane components such as the side wall panel, overhead compartments or the floor panel.

Using a lightweight material offers many advantages: “The material could help Boeing save a lot of weight, making aeroplanes more fuel efficient,” Yang said.

It’s not just commercial aeroplanes that will benefit from this lightweight metal.

HRL Laboratories is developing microlattice technology for use in space vehicles, as part of Nasa’s Game Changing Development Program, which looks for technologies that can be used in future space missions.

The use of lightweight materials enables Nasa to reduce the mass of spacecraft by 40%. This will have a huge impact on missions according to associate administrator for Space Technology Mission Directorate, Steve Jurczyk.

“These advanced technologies are necessary for us to be able to launch stronger, yet lighter, spacecraft and components as we look to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars,” he said.

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