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Polyurethane composite could replace steel or aluminum in some applications


March 29, 2012

The diesel engine housing, made using the new composite material

The diesel engine housing, made using the new composite material

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.

Source: Fraunhofer

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

It would be interesting to know how its carbon footprint compares to steel or aluminium?

Hamish Robertson

Sounds like it won't rust! What does degrade this material?

Carlos Grados

Carbon footprint! Won't rust! We're lucky the Wheel got invented before this sad Eco-Inquisition Era...

Edgar Castelo

Way to go Germany, I can think of thousands of applications. Plasteel...who would have thunk...

Robert Knapman

Home siding and roofing come to mind as applications for this too.

Mark Keller

What is the cost per square meter compared to other substances - you guys get too eager to through news our without adding information that and additional art or pics to better tell the entire story! Carbon Footprint must be known as well?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jim Young

... and after a few decades Ironman championship renamed to Polyurethanman...

When the wheel got invented, there were maybe a few millions of people and plenty of resources. Now there are 7 billions and rising. While there are much less resources and falling...

Iván Imhof

"The experimental housing is reportedly 35% lighter than a standard metal unit, and is approximately 30% cheaper to produce." A comparison should also be made with carbon fiber. If it is light and inexpensive, it should be crash tested to determine it would be useable to replace steel panels in cars.

Adrian Akau

Can this material be used for Marine application, boat building. If the answer is yes, what is the best method for forming and fusing one panel to another.



beaut, build me a ute. Ideal for car bodies for the electric car.


I used to repair locomotives - and I am not saying that this is bad... but there is no mention of the locomotive type that it is going under because the locomotives vary so much - and some sit up in the chassis, like a truck engine sits UP on top of the frame, and other locomotives in the form of small diesel electric / hydraulic drives sit underneath the powered carriage.

Contrary to what most people believe track ballast does actually fling up from the tracks and ricochets along underneath the train, along with heavy metallic objects like loose brake bars, crap stuck in the track like shopping trolleys, tree branches, along with animals that end up getting run over - with big bones pointing in all directions as they get crushed as they roll along under neath the train.

One of the advantages of steel plate is that it's TOUGH and it's flexible - or it has some spring, and if the crash or impact is really bad you can just hammer the plate back to shape and put it back on....

This - while the gap between what I assume and what I am ignorant of, may be quite huge, I believe that it will survive glancing impacts from ballast etc., for a while; I am not convinced that it will last a really long time, especially if the train digests a number of more "penetrating objects" like shopping trolleys, car parts and tree branches - like when bar or rod shaped items dig into the sleepers and then pole vault the train up and over - and since the train is very unpolevaultable (great word that) the bar or rod shaped item either shatters or bends or goes through the plate.

Where as that would not happen with steel.

Mr Stiffy

I'll have a Cobra body made out of it please. Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe the chassis as well!

Graham R
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