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World's Lightest Material is a Metal, Could Be Used for Making Better Batteries

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A newly invented material could revolutionize many industries at once. Discovered by a collaborating team from three U.S. universities, the metal is the lightest material ever discovered – so light it can actually sit on a dandelion. The new material’s density is 0.9 milligrams/cubic centimeter, and Styrofoam, one of the lightest so far, is 100 times heavier.

The lightweight metal has been engineered at nanoscale level, so that the “micro-lattice” of interconnected hollow tubes contains 99.99 percent air, and only 0.01 percent solid. The tubes’ wall thickness is 1,000 times thinner than human hair.

“Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale,” explained UCI mechanical and aerospace engineer Lorenzo Valdevit, UCI’s principal investigator on the project. “Combine this with the possibility of tailoring the architecture of the micro-lattice and you have a unique cellular material.”

The material has great mechanical properties. It recovers from compression exceeding 50 percent strain and is a very good energy absorber.

One of the most important fields of interest to green technology is making better battery electrodes. The new material could be the perfect candidate, since its lightweight and extreme porosity are just the properties battery researchers are looking for right now. For example, a battery made with such electrodes could be both cheaper and store more lithium ions, hence being able to store more electrical charge.

The team included researchers from UC Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology, having Dr. Tobias Schaedler from HRL as lead author.

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