Automakers are being pinched to increase safety and improve fuel efficiency, but those two goals often work against each other. That could change thanks to a material that is 99.99-percent air.

Ward's Automotive reports that the California Institute of Technology, HRL Laboratories and the University of California-Irvine have combined to develop a micro-lattice material that is said to be 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and strong like steel. We'd call this material paper-thin, but the truth is even more impressive: the material is comprised of tiny woven tubes that are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

The U.S. Department of Defense is obviously interested in this material for top-secret projects like next-generation aircraft, but the micro-lattice is also of great interest to the auto industry. The material could greatly reduce weight and drag, which would in turn significantly increase efficiency. At the same time, the material can reportedly almost completely recover after stress of up to 50 percent and has impressive energy absorbing characteristics. That means the material could also be a safety asset, which is good news for automakers and consumers.

Cal Tech Professor Julia Greer adds that the material could ultimately replace any non heavy-steel component that isn't already light in weight. A material with less air would reportedly be the next step in the evolution of lightweight metals, and the scientists are working on a nano-lattice that can do just that.

We don't know much about these micro and nano materials, but we're guessing it will be a while before the materials are inexpensive enough for automotive applications. But if the U.S. government and airplane manufactures can jump aboard and bring down the manufacturing costs, we could see this type of material helping automakers achieve those 50+ mile per gallon fuel economy standards. For more information and a demonstration of the micro-lattice's properties, check out the videos after the jump.





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  • 46 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      artandcolour2010
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's about time! The future is late.
      jonnybimmer
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wonder what the cost would be compared to other lightweight materials. I would imagine production costs will be a large factor in the usefulness of this material, since it doesn't appear to be simple to produce. Still, amazing stuff. On a completely different note, did anyone else click the Supra hillclimb video after the first video?
        Pinhead
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jonnybimmer
        Ya, seems like they are using a multi-photon photo resist, which requires that you raster the focal point of a laser through the every tube in the structure. They need to find a way to self-assemble it before they could possibly produce enough for an automotive application.
      iKingston
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'd be interested to see this lattice used in racecar applications as well. I am also interested is seeing how rigid the material is...
        howam00
        • 3 Years Ago
        @iKingston
        I assume this is why the article states non HEAVY STEEL, meaning it could replace most things that don't require extreme rigidity (ie the frame/chassis). Still pretty cool stuff.
      deus ex wagon
      • 3 Years Ago
      What is stress of 50%? I think you mean strain.
        IBx27
        • 3 Years Ago
        @deus ex wagon
        Only us engineers could know the difference...
      me
      • 3 Years Ago
      well how about better driver training so we wouldnt need all this safety equipment
      ReTired
      • 3 Years Ago
      C'mon..."New advanced MATERIAL that's 100x lighter....." - the metal is Nickel...my $.05.
      kontroll
      • 3 Years Ago
      the japanese and koreans are already applying for janitorial jobs at California Institute of Technology, HRL Laboratories and the University of California-Irvine to get close to this technology. toyota will be the one coming out first with the new american technology, just like the japanese did with anything else they stole. Asians don't innovate they steal
        David
        • 3 Years Ago
        @kontroll
        They wouldn't need to considering California Institute of Technology's largest undergraduate demographic is Asian.
        Hopeful 001
        • 3 Years Ago
        @kontroll
        ......if not for everyone's combined ingenuity, we won't have all the things we have today. Enough with who created what. We are all guilty in one way or the other for copying or imitating something we've seen in our daily lives and if you're one of those who claim to be sooooo original in a lot ways...well, then forgive me if I say that you are full of ****!
        BB79826
        • 3 Years Ago
        @kontroll
        Have you invented anything lately? If not, shut your entitled, white, fat, American face. Hey, look, I can stereotype, too.
          4 String
          • 3 Years Ago
          @BB79826
          you two (miko and kontroll) are such hypocrites. you threw out stereotypes yourself ("black bastard") and then you turn around and then claim to be as white as snow in the guilt? What asshats.
          SEELE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @BB79826
          It's hilarious how you claim you are not generalizing while saying "YOUR TYPE." Go back to school, you undereducated troll. How's that for "personalizing"? (Your last response was disgustingly incoherent and riddled with grammatical errors, I might add.)
          mikoprivat
          • 3 Years Ago
          @BB79826
          so BB (black bastard), do you think you are better than the idiot above??? You are just as stupid if not stupider, to lower yourself to that level...as you can see moron, it is very easy to "stereotype" anybody and as both of you demonstrated, no brains are necessary either, IDIOTS
          kontroll
          • 3 Years Ago
          @BB79826
          I love the reaction I'm getting. I guess the truth hurts and agitates guilty minds. Anyhow you're correct I am white, not fat (actually very athletic and educated) and above all NOT AMERICAN but I like your stereotyping the americans though So, not to stereotype your type, but anyone you stereotypes a race or a nation just becasue he/she doesn't like one person's comment cannot be more than an IDIOT see, that's how you do it, you personalize it, you don't generalize.
        kontroll
        • 3 Years Ago
        @kontroll
        just to calm down the spirits...my comment was directed to Asian companies not the people per se. For those who made a racial issue out of my comment, coupled with the personal attacks on me I have a special message: SCREW YOU TOO fucktards (as one of you so succinctly put it)
          4 String
          • 3 Years Ago
          @kontroll
          "Asians don't innovate they steal" How exactly is that not aimed at Asian people?? Fix your syntax, or reap what you sow. Don't accuse people of "playing the race card" when clearly your comment objectively reeks of obsolete racism and xenophobia.
          4 String
          • 3 Years Ago
          @kontroll
          "the japanese and koreans are already applying for janitorial jobs" Last time I checked, companies can't apply for jobs. Nice try, though.
          4 String
          • 3 Years Ago
          @kontroll
          Plus it was "fuckface" not "fucktard." Get it right, fuckface.
        BMWer318ic
        • 3 Years Ago
        @kontroll
        LOL, many people are this ignorant, but it's still funny to hear it every time.
      AMG THIS
      • 3 Years Ago
      This sounds exactly the same as the material debris found at the Roswell crash site back in 1947. I guess the Gov't is throwing the automakers a bone in order to drop weight and be better equipped to hit those lofty CAFE numbers.
        Chris Timberlake
        • 3 Years Ago
        @AMG THIS
        With the exception that all the files for Roswell have been declassified and the media has reviewed them already.
        jonnybimmer
        • 3 Years Ago
        @AMG THIS
        Really? Roswell? That's stretching it pretty far to come up with some reason to blame the government.
      EvoVIII
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm still waiting for flying "jetson'ish" cars. Better yet, where's the Mercedes-Benz 5000SL like in Spaceballs?
      - v o c t u s -
      • 3 Years Ago
      "the material", "this material", "a material"... nobody was proud of their creation enough to give it a name?!? I'm assuming these aren't carbon nanotubes or else this wouldn't be news, but that doesn't usually stop AB
        cestmoi77
        • 3 Years Ago
        @- v o c t u s -
        The name was given in the second video: "Ultralight Metallic Microlattice" Umm... (c;
          - v o c t u s -
          • 3 Years Ago
          @cestmoi77
          well, at least American automakers won't need to change their traditional answer when asked how they will make their cars lighter...
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
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