The latest in fuel-efficiency for cars – might turn out to be something old, something new.
Using plastics in cars isn’t new, but there is a technology originally developed for marine applications – super-strong, super-light “syntactic foam” – that is finding new and interesting uses. And if you’re picturing a flapping plastic bag for a window, or even that impossible-to-open package that toothbrushes and batteries and light bulbs come in – not to worry.
Syntactic foams are already used to make boat hulls and rocket boosters (and even soccer balls) – so they are proven to be durable and safe. And now, new high-tech polymers and production methods make foams that are rocket-booster strong, as well as lighter and cheaper than ever before.
How do you make foam like that? Here’s the Syntactic Science 101: Syntactic foam is actually a polymer or epoxy filled with tiny hollow spheres called microballoons. (Microballoons are most commonly used as a core material sandwiched between plastic, fiberglass or metal panels.) These tiny spheres give the overall structure greater strength, while allowing for much lighter weight.
So, a car made with syntactic foam will be a lighter car, which uses less gas – which is good for you, every time you stop at the pump – and good for us all, using our natural resources wisely.
Even so, while it is plenty tough, you still might want to stop at kicking the tires on your new “foam car.”