Towards Affordable Transparent Aluminum

[dc]C[/dc]ontrary to popular belief, transparent aluminum is real… It’s just prohibitively expensive (or at least it was). It is known in the scientific world as magnesium aluminate or spinel. It is a mineral ceramic that is capable of allowing the visible and infrared spectrum to pass through (which is why it is often used in military applications). It is significantly stronger and harder than glass.

The U.S. Navel Research Laboratory (NRL) has discovered a cheaper method of producing the material that also requires less energy. The new method discovered uses a low-temperature hot-press that limits the size of the spinel only to the size of the press used to form it. The laboratory team, lead by Dr. Jas Sanghera, has agreed to hand over the method to the commercial industry to allow businesses to fully utilize the promising material. Because of it’s previously high cost it was primarily used in military and police armor.

Application

What can this material be used for now? A wide range of things. Lets start with cell phones. A phone screen made of transparent aluminum would be very difficult to scratch and would not shatter if you dropped the phone onto concrete. Since this material is easily bullet-resistant it could also be used to lower the cost and weight of armor for vehicles. Bullet-resistant glass for vehicles used to protect high-profile individuals such as celebrities, business persons, and politicians could be reduced in thickness while still providing the same ballistics protection. Current bullet-resistant material of choice is thick Plexiglas but to prevent most bullets from penetrating the material has to be very thick and therefore very heavy. Transparent aluminum could be used instead which would reduce weight, be easier to install, and reduce the amount of fuel the vehicle used. Because of the optical properties it is also likely to be used by the solar power industry in the future as well. It could provide better protection for solar cells with the possibility of even enhancing efficiency if the optical properties could be tuned.

The video below is from the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (played by the late James Doohan) along with Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (played by the late Jackson DeForest Kelley) have traveled back in time and are in need of a container to hold two humpback whales and the water needed for them to survive. Scotty pulls up the chemical structure of transparent aluminum on the computer for the manager of Plexicorp, a ceramics manufacturer, and offers the deal of a lifetime.

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