Bio-enabled Lightweight Metallic Structures

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West Lafayette, Indiana
Project Term:
04/01/2018 - 06/30/2019

Critical Need:

The transportation sector uses nearly 30% of domestic energy. Every 10% reduction in vehicle weight leads to 6-8% fuel savings and a proportional reduction in emissions. By reducing highway vehicle weight by just 1%, the U.S. could save 1-1.4 billion gallons of fuel per year, but lightweighting must not sacrifice strength or safety. Ultrahigh strength-to-weight ratio materials are critical to improving the energy efficiency of our transportation sector while maintaining the safety of our passengers and cargo.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Purdue University will develop new bio-inspired ultrahigh strength-to-weight ratio materials. To do so, they will develop porous metal replicas of diatom frustules, which are hollow silica (glass) structures that have evolved over millions of years to possess high resistance to being crushed by predators. They are targeting structures possessing high strengths (> 350 MPa or 50,763 PSI) and low densities (<1000 kg/m3), which they will evaluate using microscale mechanical tests and simulations. These results will then be used to develop scaling laws for the design of robust macroscopic structures from “millions” of individual metallic diatom replicas. If successful, it is hoped that the processes developed can be used to create ultrahigh strength-to-weight ratio vehicle parts that help to increase overall vehicle energy efficiency without sacrificing safety.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. David Tew
Project Contact:
Prof. Kenneth Sandhage
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:

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