Making lighter planes is the main way aircraft manufacturers hope to reduce the environmental impact of flight. And they’re already quite successful at it: By using less fuel, composite planes like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner produce 20% fewer CO2 emissions than traditional aluminum-bodied planes.
But aircraft could become substantially lighter–and energy efficient–in the future, if this video from Boeing is any indication. It promotes a new material called “microlattice” that’s 100 times lighter than Styrofoam, yet remarkably strong. The metal mesh squeezes to about half its size, allowing it to sustain heavy pressure. Boeing could use it on the inside of planes for things like floor paneling.
The microlattice is so light because there’s so little of it. The tubes are hollow and have a wall thickness of 100 nanometers–1,000 times thinner than a human hair. It has an ordered open cell structure and is 99.9% air.
The material was developed by Malibu-based HRL Laboratories, which is owned by Boeing and General Motors, along with researchers from Caltech and the University of California, Irvine. It was first reported in the journal Science back in November 2011.
“The material could help Boeing save a lot of weight and make airplanes more fuel efficient,” says HRL researcher Sophia Yang in the video.