Researchers work on new aluminium product
Stronger than aluminium, yet cheaper and lighter than steel.
These are the claims made for a new material developed by Hong Kong researchers, who say it could replace steel and cement in buildings.
The composite of carbon and aluminium, known as fibre-reinforced aluminium, can also save energy, according to the team at the University of Science and Technology who developed it.
It is made by changing the structure of the materials at a microscopic, or nano, level, enabling them to bond without the use of glue.
Team leader Ben Chan Yui-bun, of the university's department of civil and environmental engineering, said the material had potential but more research was needed. "The industry doesn't like new materials, because they don't know what will happen over time. A building has to be standing in 200 years," he said.
He said the material took on the heat-dissipating properties and flexibility of aluminium and the strength of carbon fibres.
In a layered combination with gypsum, foam and other materials, it can generate 50 per cent energy savings for new buildings.
Chan said it did so by minimising the escape of air through gaps in the building, reducing indoor temperature fluctuation.
With less fluctuation, buildings would need less energy to cool or heat rooms.
"The composite, with layers of other materials, exceeds the basic requirements for building codes in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Moscow," Chan said.
The new material so far has neither been patented nor announced in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but the research is "worth doing", said Professor Robert Li Kwok-yiu, of City University's department of physics and material sciences.
He added that the technology probably still had a "lot of difficulties to overcome".
The material could also be an alternative lightweight material for mobile phones, laptop casings, cars, planes and parts of buildings, once the effects of impurities in the aluminium and long-term impact on the material are tested.
The research has been a collaboration between the university, Russian aluminium producer UC Rusal and several Russian universities, including the Moscow State University.
UC Rusal has provided US$500,000 to fund research from 2011 until next year.