A team of researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) led by Dr. Uday Vaidya has developed a composite of thermoplastic and fiberglass resins and fibers to make wall panels that protect homes from flying tornado debris. This prototype is the first of its kind, and it can be replicated for installation in other homes.

The idea for the panels was inspired by the tornado that ravished Alabama in 2011 and the 1,000 tornadoes recorded in the U.S. each year that result in 80 deaths and 1,500 injuries.

UAB picked composite materials for the panels for a number of reasons. Composites make the panels just as strong as steel, but 80 percent lighter. They are customizable, easily installed, do not require paint and do not rust or corrode. The panels, which were made from discarded liner once used to wrap offshore oil-rig pipes, are also an example of green engineering. Recycled materials used in the experimental phase kept thousands of pounds of waste from landfills.

The panels passed the National Storm Shelter Association’s most extreme test, proving they can withstand 200+ mile per hour winds from EF5 tornadoes. Last month, the panels were installed as an integral component of a safe room in a new construction home in the Montgomery, Ala.

“Our goal was to develop new technology that would help protect individuals against the impact of debris during natural disasters, and I think with these panels, we’ve done just that.” Dr. Vaidya said. “If it saves even one life, it will have been worth the effort to design it,” added Larry Tanner, manager of the NSSA/Texas Tech Debris Impact Test Facility.