It is interesting to see government funding such projects. It seems like it will open new horizons in industry and academia. If given proper concentration, It might revolutionize the automotive industry as well, opening up a new market for lightweight body automobiles. It is definelty the area worth spending funds on, since it aims to benefit so many other dependant industries.
@william, although foaming of metals might seem a nice technique to make the metals lighter, it just might not be adequate. Because the essential requirement of this new R&D institute is to make metal high in strength to weight ratio. Foaming might decrease the weight of metals, but it drastically reduces their strength as well. To be more precise, the strength of the metal is directly proportional to the square of its density. Adding air to any metal makes it highly porous and less dense.
So, I would rather have them use some other alloy mixing technique, if they are to produce high strength-low weight metals.
Al, I agree that we should; provide initial funding, but that R&D efforts like this should eventually become self-sustaining. Of course, that assumes the ability to do a certain amount of predicting the future and a lack of big upsets in a market, like big, unexpected price drops in solar panel components. Regardless of what else happened to make Solyndra fall, that was certainly one major factor. The Chinese have now been formally charged with dumping solar modules, wafers and cells by the EU: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/eu-imposes-provisional-tariffs-on-chinese-solar-imports
Ann, With the Center for Compact, Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) originally funded by the National Science Foundation, I think they also had a mandate to become self-sustaining. That goal provides a positive impetus for collaboration and some sense of urgency in making the connection between research and product development. As a nation, we should be funding research because it plays to our strengths but we also need a way to create at least an indirect connection with markets. Just an opinion. Certainly not an expert on this topic.
I also thought, along with Al, that it was interesting, and significant, for the feds to make it clear these institutes must become self-sustaining. I suspect that's one of the reasons they are so inclusive--industry, academia and government organizations.
Ann, the really big advantage of using foamed metals is that they are so simple to recycle, since there is nothing added except air. Any alloy additives would make the material different, which might not be a benefit.
Lou, that's an interesting point about recycling and what happens to materials either phased out because they're no longer wanted or needed and no one can get anymore or that have no market such as the wood pulp example. I saw a comment about something similar in a recent DN blog, having to do with phased-out CRT monitors, I think. Wish I could remember which one.
Ann, I am sure you are correct. There sould be processes that can be developed to recover the raw materials from composites. That would be very interesting.
All of the recycling efforts we participate in are working. Personally I know that at least half our volume of trash is recyclables. I think we could do better.
Another interesting example of the effect, although a little off topic, is the wood pulp industry. Due to massive recycling of paper products the timber industry has lost a major market for the parts of trees that would ground up and consumed by the pulp industry. They have since found a market in Germany. The Germans are burning them because they release less carbon than coal. There is a big debate in Germany becuase the wood used would not be available there due to environmental restrictions, but for now it is happening. This is a great example of how recycling is working out, though.
Al is right, automotive is not the only industry that's expected to benefit from lightweighting R&D, including this institute's. Aerospace is another big one, and so is defense, but so are certain industrial uses. Automotive is the one that's in the forefront of many lightweighting efforts, because of the 54.5 mpg CAFE standard, as Chuck pointed out.
William, the foam structure you mention, and other means of introducing air into metallic structures, is one way to make them lighter. Others include certain alloy techniques and coming up with new alloys altogether, either aluminum-plus-something or certain types of steel.
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