An innovative aluminum composite has been discovered by a HKUST research team led by Prof Yui Bun Chan, Civil and Environmental Engineering, with support from leading global aluminum producer UC RUSAL. The material, known as fiber reinforced aluminum, is stronger than current aluminum, and less expensive and lighter than steel. Fiber reinforced aluminum has a wide range of potential applications, especially in the construction industry where it can serve as an alternative to steel and cement. It can also be applied to electronic products, automobiles, and aircraft.
Fiber reinforced aluminum is a mixture of carbon fiber and aluminum and the search for a way to merge the two materials has taxed top minds for a long time. Prof Chan's team secured the key breakthrough by using nanotechnology to alter the composition of carbon fiber, enabling it to integrate with other substances, such as aluminum. The research is now undergoing its final phase and is expected to be completed in 2015.
Prof Chan pointed out that, in current construction projects, aluminum is largely restricted to use in window frames due to its soft texture. However, the new carbon-fiber aluminum could be used to produce a greener, cheaper and lighter building envelope. "If used together with a phase-change material (PCM), fiber reinforced aluminum creates a smart building envelope system, which will effectively reduce indoor temperature fluctuation and halve labor costs and construction time compared to conventional systems built mainly from steel and cement," Prof Chan said.
The research is part of a five-year cooperation program between HKUST and UC RUSAL that seeks to foster joint scientific research to address environmental issues and links between young scientists in Russia and Hong Kong.