World’s lightest metal is 99.99% hollow and the future of aeronautic design

Oct 18, 2015


By James Billington

Aerospace manufacturer Boeing has created the world’s lightest metal structure, which it claims is 99.99% hollow. The structure is so light that a sample can sit atop a dandelion. The revolutionary breakthrough claims to be 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and could be the future for aeronautical design.

The material, called Microlattice, is a 3D open-cellular polymer structure and is inspired by bones where the outside is solid but on the inside you find a mostly hollow, yet extremely strong and light structure. Microlattice is made.

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6 comments on “World’s lightest metal is 99.99% hollow and the future of aeronautic design

  • I believe there is an aluminium foam that can be used to fill fuel tanks of cars, taking up 5% of space, leaving 95% for fuel. A fuel tank with this foam inside will retain the fuel, even when ruptured, so you reduce fire hazard with accidents. Never heard of it being actually deployed though…..

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  • Of course, being a material that can be blown away, don’t expect an entire fuselage built from it (not ideal in crosswinds),

    Silly statement, aero-engineers sweat blood to make the fuselages as light as possible, hence why many small aircraft are still covered in fabric or such thin aluminum you could push a hole through it with a biro. Like a bone I imagine they would use this to make say tubing with this stuff inside to provide rigidity while having a thinner wall thickness, and hence lighter for the same or greater strength. Provided you still have to carry an engine, fuel and passengers it is not going to be blown away by a crosswind. In WW2 one of my favorite aircraft the Mosquito had a fuselage made of ply and balsa wood. The Balsa is quite soft (like this structure) but it was used glued between layers of ply to make a wood composite that was able to make an incredibly light wing that was tremendously strong. No one was worried about it blowing off the runway.

    I’m assuming this is 3D printed with powdered metal that is laser sintered into this structure. The ultimate thing would be to make whole components with two skins and this structure fused in between out of aircraft grade alloys printed in one piece, whole fuselage sections could be made with tremendous weight savings and strength, not to mention better aerodynamics. Need to start making some very big 3D printers.

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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    It won’t be long before Titleist release a new golf club driver filled with this material.

    Sorry to be a contrarian David but this material would actually be a rather poor choice for a driver for two main reasons.

    First, this material was designed to maximize structural rigidity while minimizing weight. Structural rigidity means resistance to bending and twisting (like the kind that airplane wings are subjected to while in flight).

    Now a golf driver has to withstand major impact: the high velocity of the club striking a very small cross-section of an immobile ball results in major impact forces. But this material was not designed for impact resistance and its essentially fragile internal structure would get destroyed very quickly (depending on the thickness and impact resistance of the skin surrounding the material).

    Secondly, in order for a driver to deliver the maximum amount of kinetic energy to the golf ball (which translates into maximum distance traveled downrange), a driver must be as massive as possible within its regulation allowed volume. Therefore a driver made from this lightweight material would cause a substantial loss in yardage on the fairway. The whole process would be pretty much analoguous to trying to drive nails with a hammer made from styrofoam.

    The ideal material for a golf driver wold have to be as dense and as impact resistant as possible. The ideal club IMHO would be made from a thin titanium or vanadium skin (thicker on the face of the club for impact resistance) filled with depleted uranium to maximize mass… as long as one doesn’t mind getting cancer from playing golf of course 😉

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