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The application of porous metals

Porous metals are a novel type of material with low density and unique properties. They possess characteristics of both structural and functional materials, making them widely applicable in various fields such as architecture, aerospace, medicine, petrochemicals, electromagnetic shielding, electrochemical processes, and catalytic reaction engineering.

Lightweight building materials

Ultra-lightweight porous metal sandwich panels have several advantages over traditional concrete materials. These advantages include being lightweight, having good seismic performance, being waterproof, and providing thermal insulation. In some high-end neighborhoods in Geneva, foam aluminum composite panels have been used as building materials. Not only do they bring aesthetic appeal, but they also possess exceptional fire resistance and seismic resistance. In addition, foam metal also has promising applications in the military field. Steel plate foam aluminum composite damping layers have good energy absorption and vibration reduction effects, which can be applied to the design of ground military engineering structures to enhance the survival capabilities of soldiers during wartime.

Nickel Foam
Nickel Foam

Energy absorbing materials

Porous metallic materials, when compressed, have a large deformation space due to their high porosity. This allows them to absorb a significant amount of energy, making them suitable for structural protection, such as buffers and shock absorbers. As early as the 1990s, scholars began researching the application of foam metal in the automotive industry. Currently, the research on foam aluminum-filled structures in automobiles mainly focuses on components such as bumpers and frames. Foam aluminum-filled crash beam structures have been designed for car door collision beams and simulated. The results showed that they have higher yield strength and energy absorption compared to the prototype crash beams, providing significant advantages in improving automotive safety.

In addition, foam protective materials are widely used in the aerospace field. The European Space Agency has found that adding porous aluminum to multi-layer protective structures can cause multiple impact loads on debris colliding with spacecraft, causing them to break and reducing damage to the machinery. Furthermore, using foam aluminum composite materials to manufacture telescope lenses for astronomical purposes not only provides high stability but also protects the lenses from impact damage caused by space debris.

Nickel Foam (2)

Medical materials

In recent years, porous metals have been increasingly used in the field of medicine, such as in orthopedic transplantation. An ideal orthopedic implant material should possess stable biological performance, good biocompatibility, excellent mechanical properties, and superior transmission performance. Porous tantalum stands out due to its unique characteristics, including high porosity, low elastic modulus, and high surface friction coefficient. These features not only contribute to its stable biological properties but also facilitate the ingrowth of bones and fibrous tissues, promoting the direct connection of ligaments and tendons to the surface of the prosthesis. Studies have indicated that when the porosity ranges from 38.5% to 49.7%, the mechanical properties of porous TiNbZr shape memory alloy closely resemble those of natural bones. This highlights the potential of porous metals, particularly porous tantalum, in orthopedic applications.

Heat exchange materials

Porous metal materials with high thermal conductivity, such as porous copper and porous aluminum, can be used as heat exchange materials. Compared to traditional heat exchange materials, these types of porous foam metals have the advantages of low density, large specific surface area, and high thermal conductivity. The large specific surface area and convective heat transfer of the medium can increase the heat transfer efficiency. Experimental results have shown that the heat transfer performance of porous foam metals improves with an increase in pore density. In addition, the unique porous structure of these materials can minimize pressure drop.

Electrode materials

Compared to traditional electrode materials, porous metals, as current collectors, can provide a larger volume change buffer space and enhance the adhesion between the active material and the current collector. Additionally, due to their high specific surface area, they can facilitate the contact between the current collector and the active substance, thereby increasing the capacity and improving the charging and discharging rate.

Filtering and separating materials

Common liquid-solid separation devices include porous bronze and porous titanium. Porous bronze is often used in the petroleum industry for purifying oil filtration, while porous titanium has a wider range of applications. It can be used as a support for semi-permeable membranes in the purification of drinking water and desalination of seawater. Porous nickel and porous stainless steel are commonly used for gas-liquid separation. Coating porous metals with organic silicon can effectively separate gas and water. Gas-solid filtration devices are commonly used in automobile exhaust gas treatment. They can resist gas corrosion and high temperatures, making them ideal for exhaust gas treatment. In order to achieve the separation purpose, gas-gas separation requires the pore size of the porous material to reach the nanometer level, equal to or smaller than the average free path of the gas.

Sound-absorbing materials

Porous metals possess a unique structural characteristic that allows them to exhibit diffuse sound reflection, as well as induce friction between the internal air and the pore walls through air oscillation, resulting in the conversion of sound energy into thermal energy and thus attenuating sound waves. Research has indicated that the sound absorption performance of porous materials is influenced by factors such as the filling medium within the cavities, the thickness of the cavities, and their relative positions. Furthermore, studies have shown that smaller pore sizes and higher porosity rates correspond to better sound absorption performance.

Electro-magnetic shielding materials

The shielding mechanism of porous metals is the multiple reflections and absorptions of electromagnetic waves by internal pores. Research has shown that smaller the pore size of porous metals corresponds to better electromagnetic shielding performance. On the other hand, the volume density of porous metals has minimal impact on their shielding performance if it exceeds a critical value. For example, the electromagnetic shielding performance of foam aluminum is mainly influenced by factors such as reflection loss, absorption loss, scattering reflection, eddy current loss, and wave-current interaction.

Hydrogen storage materials

Hydrogen has the characteristics of being clean and efficient, but the storage of hydrogen is an important obstacle to its large-scale application, which is why advanced hydrogen storage methods have received special attention. Porous metal-organic frameworks have become a hot research area for hydrogen storage materials due to their large specific surface area, high micropore volume, and low density. These frameworks have the characteristics of low adsorption and desorption temperatures, fast speed, and small thermal effects.

Nickel Foam (5)

flame and explosion suppression materials

In recent years, porous metal materials have received widespread attention in the field of flame and explosion suppression due to their excellent inhibitory effects on pressure waves and flames generated during explosions. They are commonly used for the protection against coal mine gas explosions. Based on the quenching effect of petroleum flame arresters on the flame propagation of flammable gases and the inhibitory effect on pressure waves, several structures such as metal wire mesh and corrugated plates have been used to suppress the propagation of coal mine gas explosions. With further research, explosion suppression materials such as foam ceramics and combinations of metal wire mesh and foam ceramics have also emerged.

With the increasing attention to porous metals in society, more and more people are focusing on their research and application. Although porous metals have been widely used in many fields such as petroleum and chemical industry, this only represents a fraction of the performance characteristics of porous materials that have been discovered and utilized. There are still many performance aspects waiting to be explored and discovered.

Picture of Lu


Our materials research team from Tsinghua University postdoctoral researcher lin and Harbin Institute of Technology researcher Mu, Nanjing University of Technology researcher Wei, they share their expertise in foam metal materials article.

About HGP

WE were established in 2003, located in the Gaoxin Zone of Guangdong-Guangxi Cooperation Special Experimental Zone, covering an area of 70 mu, with a plant of about 30,000 square meters, with more than 170 employees, is an advanced new material technology enterprise integrating research and development, production and sales.

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