Researchers the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and aluminum manufacturer UC RUSCAL have developed fiber reinforced aluminum (FRA), which is stronger than aluminum and cheaper and lighter than steel. The material could be used to produce building envelope systems that are safer, cheaper, more energy-efficient and easier to mount.

The research team changed the composition of carbon fiber by using nanotechnology, which allowed it to perfectly integrate with the aluminum. Industrialists have long looked for a way to merge carbon fiber with aluminum, and this research could create a whole range of new materials with broad applications. FRA can be used to produce a greener, cheaper and lighter building envelope. Other potential applications are electronic products, automobiles, aircrafts and building materials, which could significantly increase aluminum’s global applications.

The team’s smart building envelope system, consisting mainly of a layered panel composed of FRA, PCM, gypsum board and polyisocyanurate foam, minimizes gaps between the building envelope and the structure, thus saving energy on air conditioning or heating. Professor Chan Yui-Bun from HKUST’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering says the lightweight panels are also easier to install and can be mounted from inside the building, which will halve the labor costs and construction time compared to steel and cement systems.

The system exceeds the basic requirements of building codes in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Moscow for thermal resistance and wind load resistance, and exceeds Moscow’s benchmark for deflection limit and fire resistance.