Kobe Steel invents malleable metal 80 percent lighter than steel

Japanese Kobe Steel has developed a lightweight kind of aluminium which is as hard as regular steel but can be easily moulded into unconventional shapes.

The idea is to use porous aluminium in automobiles. Because it is so comparably light the researchers believe it could drastically reduce the carbon footprint of new cars. It costs less than aluminium sheeting or composite carbon fiber and could begin production as soon as April, reports Nikkei (subscription). 

Despite all the fancy green tech gizmos a vehicle packs, when it comes down to it weight is a serious sticking point for how well a car can curb its emissions. Foam resin is placed between two 0.15mm aluminium sheets and then heated at over 200 Celsius – the result is a material as hard as steel but only 3mm thick. It is highly malleable and can be rolled and curved but its material strength means it’s tough to bend out of shape.

Kobe Steel says porous aluminium is up to 80 percent lighter than steel and 60 percent lighter than regular aluminium. The problem is the material can’t be welded together, it has to be riveted – Kobe hopes to flog it to manufacturers to roll out on vehicle interiors.

At least for this purpose Kobe may cut competition out of the market: In Japan, the average selling price for regular aluminium per square metre is over 2,000 yen or roughly $25. Kobe will sell its porous aluminium at 1,500 yen or $18 per square metre – vastly cheaper than the useful but expensive composite carbon fiber.