Polyurethane composite could replace steel or aluminum in some applications
By Ben Coxworth
March 29, 2012
A consortium of German research groups has created a new sandwich-type material that they claim offers strength similar to that of steel or aluminum, yet is significantly lighter and less expensive. It consists of a honeycomb-structured paper core, with glass fiber-reinforced layers of polyurethane on the outsides. To give an idea of how tough it is, it’s about to be tested on the diesel engine housing of a train.
The material is intended for a number of applications, but it was decided that the engine housing would be a good test. The housing will be located on the underside of the train, where it will be constantly subjected to track debris such as flying rocks. It must also contain engine fluids such as oil, to keep them from leaking into the environment, while additionally serving to contain the flames in the event of an engine fire – additives in the polyurethane ensure that it meets fire safety standards.
The experimental housing is reportedly 35% lighter than a standard metal unit, and is approximately 30% cheaper to produce. So far, it has done very well on mechanical stress tests, performed on a laboratory rig. The next step will be to actually install it on a running train, and see how it works in the real world.
Groups involved in the project include Bombardier GmbH, KraussMaffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH, Bayer MaterialScience AG, DECS GmbH, the DLR’s Institute for Vehicle Concepts, the University of Stuttgart, the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT.