A New “Metallic Wood” Could Mean Much Lighter Cars

Researchers come up with new materials on a regular basis. For instance, researchers from three schools have come up with a new material that they are calling “metallic wood,” though in truth, it is something that resembles wood in certain respects rather than something made out of real wood. The process for producing this new material is complicated. First, the researchers secured a supply of small plastic spheres with widths that must be measured using hundreds of nanometers, which are billionths of a meter. Second, the researchers suspended the spheres in water before evaporating the substance to ensure that the spheres would stack upon one another. Third, the researchers electroplated the spheres with nickel before using a solvent to dissolve the spheres in order to secure the desired end goal of a nickel lattice with some very interesting properties.

For starters, the nickel lattice is very lightweight, which is perhaps unsurprising when it is a lattice, meaning that about 70 percent of the material is nothing but empty space. However, what is particularly interesting about the material is that it combines this lightweight nature with incredible strength, so much so that it is comparable to titanium in this regard in spite of being four to five times lighter. Suffice to say that this makes the nickel lattice a very attractive material, assuming that it can ever be made practical in the economic sense of the word.

As for why the researchers called the material “metallic wood,” there are a couple of reasons. One, its density is similar to that of wood. However, it is important to note that this is an outgrowth of its structure, which resembles wood in that it possesses both dense parts and porous parts. With that said, one can’t help but wonder whether a smart sense of marketing was involved in the process as well because speaking bluntly, “metallic wood” sounds much more interesting that “nickel lattice” for most people out there.

What Are Its Implications?

For the time being, there will be no immediate consequences of the reveal of this new material. This is because it took the researchers about a day to produce a stamp-sized piece of material, which doesn’t exactly suggest that it can be churned out in huge volumes at very affordable prices. However, if the researchers and other interested parties ever manage to turn it into something that can be mass produced, there are a lot of potential uses for such lightweight materials.

To name an example, consider how lightweight materials can prove beneficial for more fuel-efficient cars and other motor vehicles. In short, it takes less power to accelerate a lighter weight compared to a heavier weight, meaning that the simplest and most straightforward improvement would be better fuel efficiency. Something that can mean considerable savings for consumers as well as a considerable reduction in the consumption of scarce resources for society as a whole. However, the potential consequences don’t stop there. After all, a reduced need for power means that an electric vehicle can continue to perform fine with a less powerful and thus less expensive battery, thus making electric vehicles more attractive for consumers. Moreover, a reduction in weight based of the use of lightweight materials means that the weight can be used for something else, whether that means more features, improved safety, or something else that is meant to make the vehicle better-suited as well as more useful for its intended occupants.

Of course, this is just one example of how this new material might benefit society as a whole if it becomes practical for widespread use. After all, metals see a lot of use in a lot of contexts, meaning that the “metallic wood” could make for improvements in everything from construction to everyday consumer goods. For that matter, it is worth noting that nickel isn’t the sole metal that can be electroplated onto things. As a result, if the researchers were able to produce such improvements for nickel with their process, one can’t help but wonder whether it would be possible to do something similar for other metals as well, which in turn, could have even more applications.


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