Metallic foam

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  • Metal foam is a foam gas bubble-filled substance made out of metal, frequently aluminum. Metal foam comes in two varieties, closed-cell foam, with sealed pores, and open-cell foam, with open pores.
  • Metal foams have a very high porosity, where 75-95% of the volume of the material is empty, filled by air or hydrogen.
  • Metal foams retain many of the characteristics of the metal used to produce them, such as non-flammability.
  • On the other hand, metal foams are less conductive than solid metal, and are substantially weaker, though rarely weaker than wood. Metal foams are easily recyclable back into the original metal, making them more reusable than polymer foams.
  • Many metal foams are created by introducing air bubbles into molten metal. Making a foam out of molten metal is not easy, and the material is accordingly expensive.
  • A foaming agent such as powdered titanium hydride, which decomposes into titanium and hydrogen at high temperatures, must be used.
  • Metal foam is a specialty material, used for aerospace, heat exchangers, and other high-performance applications. Because metal foam is stiff and light, it has often been proposed as a futuristic structural material, though it has not yet seriously been used as one.
  • A metal foam, as one might expect, is a dispersion of gas bubbles in a metallic bulk material. These extremely lightweight materials (density of around 0.25 g/cm3) have some very promising properties; including high specific stiffness, very good energy-absorption, low thermal conductivity and outstanding absorption of electromagnetic waves.
  • Because of these interesting properties, metal foams have a number of potential applications - such as crash protection material for cars, building material for wall cladding and sound-proofing. Metal foams can be produced by a wide variety of foaming methods.
  • Generally speaking, all one has to do is release a gas into molten metal, ensure that the gas cannot escape, and then finally stabilise and solidify the foam by quickly cooling it at exactly the right time.
  • One way of achieving this is to produce a precursor material, such as aluminium mixed with a small amount of titanium hydride (0.5 wt% of TiH2).
  • Once heated up in the region of 660C the aluminium melts and becomes liquid, while the TiH2, known as the blowing agent, decomposes to release hydrogen gas. This gas thus forms the bubbles and creates a highly porous structure.
  • A good analogy of metal foam formation is the head on top of a freshly-poured glass of beer. Pouring the beer causes the dissolved CO2 to form gas bubbles. The beer itself forms very thin liquid films in between these gas bubbles.
  • With time, smaller bubbles begin to coalesce (i.e. join together) to form bigger ones. Gravity also plays a role since it causes the thin liquid films to drain to the bottom of the glass.
  • Some commercial metal foams include M-Pore, Porvair, Duocel, Metal Foam Korea, Metafoam and Recemat. The pores in metal foams are usually between 1-8 mm in diameter, but some specialty foams have pores so small they are invisible to the naked eye.
  • Aluminum and aluminum foam parts could be manufactured in a single piece with a wide range of bulk and surface properties that provide excellent physical, thermal and acoustic characteristics.
  • The processing cost of closed-cell Al foams are lower than that of open cell foam and with the use of foaming from powder compact process, it also possible to manufacture parts in the final form, in any shape and dimensions with a dense Al skin on it.

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