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Toxic Coal Byproduct Made Into Lighter, Stronger Metal Foams

Toxic Coal Byproduct Made Into Lighter, Stronger Metal Foams

Power plant - CC license by jonasclemens

 A toxic byproduct from coal plants has been used by researchers to make metal foams that are just as strong as aluminum, but lighter.

A team at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University used fly ash as an additive in metal foams designed to replace solid aluminum and magnesium in certain vehicle parts.

More than half of the 70 million tons of fly ash created by coal combustion a year ends up in landfills. Many cement companies have been using fly ash to make concrete stronger and with less cement.

The university's Composites Materials and Mechanics Laboratory mixed fly ash with molten aluminum and magnesium, creating a porous metal foam due to the hollow particles in the fly ash. 

The team says the resulting materials are lighter than their solid versions and absorb more energy in situations like car crashes.

The foam metals are ideal, the team says, for non-load-bearing automotive parts like engine and wheel covers, as well as other consumer goods like street signs, benches, light posts and doorknobs. Not only would using metal foams in place of solid metal use fewer raw materials, it would also make vehicles lighter.

The NYU team and collaborators from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee reported on their work in the Journal of Metals.

Power plant - CC license by jonasclemens