Metal foam


Foamed aluminium
Regular foamed aluminium

A metal foam is a cellular structure consisting of a solid metal (frequently aluminium) with gas-filled pores comprising a large portion of the volume. The pores can be sealed (closed-cell foam) or interconnected (open-cell foam). The defining characteristic of metal foams is a high porosity: typically only 5–25% of the volume is the base metal. The strength of the material is due to the square–cube law.

Metal foams typically retain some physical properties of their base material. Foam made from non-flammable metal remains non-flammable and can generally be recycled as the base material. Its coefficient of thermal expansion is similar while thermal conductivity is likely reduced.[1]



Open-cell metal foam
CFD (numerical simulation) of fluid flow and heat transfer on an open cell metal foam

Open-celled metal foam, also called metal sponge,[2] can be used in heat exchangers (compact electronics cooling, cryogen tanks, PCM heat exchangers), energy absorption, flow diffusion, and lightweight optics. The high cost of the material generally limits its use to advanced technology, aerospace, and manufacturing.

Fine-scale open-cell foams, with cells smaller than can be seen unaided, are used as high-temperature filters in the chemical industry.

Metal foams are used in compact heat exchangers to increase heat transfer at the cost of reduced pressure.[3][4][5][clarification needed] However, their use permits substantial reduction in physical size and fabrication costs. Most models of these materials use idealized and periodic structures or averaged macroscopic properties.

Metal sponge has very large surface area per unit weight and catalysts are often formed into metal sponge, such as palladium black, platinum sponge, and spongy nickel. Metals such as osmium and palladium hydride are metaphorically called "metal sponges", but this term is in reference to their property of binding to hydrogen, rather than the physical structure.[6]


Closed-cell metal foam was first reported in 1926 by Meller in a French patent where foaming of light metals, either by inert gas injection or by blowing agent, was suggested.[7] Two patents on sponge-like metal were issued to Benjamin Sosnik in 1948 and 1951 who applied mercury vapor to blow liquid aluminium.[8][9]

Closed-cell metal foams were developed in 1956 by John C. Elliott at Bjorksten Research Laboratories. Although the first prototypes were available in the 1950s, commercial production began in the 1990s by Shinko Wire company in Japan. Closed-cell metal foams are primarily used as an impact-absorbing material, similarly to the polymer foams in a bicycle helmet but for higher impact loads. Unlike many polymer foams, metal foams remain deformed after impact and can therefore only be deformed once. They are light (typically 10–25% of the density of an identical non-porous alloy; commonly those of aluminium) and stiff and are frequently proposed as a lightweight structural material. However, they have not been widely used for this purpose.

Closed-cell foams retain the fire resistance and recycling potential of other metal foams, but add the property of flotation in water.

Stochastic foam

A foam is said to be stochastic when the porosity distribution is random. Most foams are stochastic because of the method of manufacture:

  • Foaming of liquid or solid (powder) metal
  • Vapor deposition (CVD on a random matrix )
  • Direct or indirect random casting of a mold containing beads or matrix

Regular foam

Manufacturing process of a regular metal foam by direct molding, CTIF process[10][11][12]

A foam is said to be regular when the structure is ordered. Direct molding is one technology that produces regular foams[10][11] with open pores. Metal foams can also be produced by additive processes such as selective laser melting (SLM).

Plates can be used as casting cores. The shape is customized for each application. This manufacturing method allows for "perfect" foam, so-called because it satisfies Plateau's laws and has conducting pores of the shape of a truncated octahedron Kelvin cell (body-centered cubic structure).

Kelvin cell (Similar to the Weaire–Phelan structure)



Open cell foams are manufactured by foundry or powder metallurgy. In the powder method, "space holders" are used; as their name suggests, they occupy the pore spaces and channels. In casting processes, foam is cast with an open-celled polyurethane foam skeleton.


Foams are commonly made by injecting a gas or mixing a foaming agent into molten metal.[13] Melts can be foamed by creating gas bubbles in the material. Normally, bubbles in molten metal are highly buoyant in the high-density liquid and rise quickly to the surface. This rise can be slowed by increasing the viscosity of the molten metal by adding ceramic powders or alloying elements to form stabilizing particles in the melt, or by other means. Metallic melts can be foamed in one of three ways:

  • by injecting gas into the liquid metal from an external source;
  • by causing gas formation in the liquid by admixing gas-releasing blowing agents with the molten metal;
  • by causing the precipitation of gas that was previously dissolved in the molten metal.

To stabilize the molten metal bubbles, high temperature foaming agents (nano- or micrometer- sized solid particles) are required. The size of the pores, or cells, is usually 1 to 8 mm. When foaming or blowing agents are used, they are mixed with the powdered metal before it is melted. This is the so-called "powder route" of foaming, and it is probably the most established (from an industrial standpoint). After metal (e.g. aluminium) powders and foaming agent (e.g.TiH2) have been mixed, they are compressed into a compact, solid precursor, which can be available in the form of a billet, a sheet, or a wire. Production of precursors can be done by a combination of materials forming processes, such as powder pressing,[14] extrusion (direct[15] or conform[16]) and flat rolling.[17]

Regular foams gallery



Metal foam can be used in product or architectural composition.

Design gallery



Foam metal has been used in experimental animal prosthetics. In this application, a hole is drilled into the bone and the metal foam inserted, letting the bone grow into the metal for a permanent junction. For orthopedic applications, tantalum or titanium foams are common for their tensile strength, corrosion resistance and biocompatibility.

The back legs of a Siberian Husky named Triumph received foam metal prostheses. Mammalian studies showed that porous metals, such as titanium foam, may allow vascularization within the porous area.[19]

Orthopedic device manufacturers use foam construction or metal foam coatings[20] to achieve desired levels of osseointegration.[21][22][23]


The primary functions of metallic foams in vehicles are to increase sound damping, reduce weight, increase energy absorption in case of crashes, and (in military applications) to combat the concussive force of IEDs. As an example, foam filled tubes could be used as anti-intrusion bars.[24] Because of their low density (0.4–0.9 g/cm3), aluminium and aluminium alloy foams are under particular consideration. These foams are stiff, fire resistant, nontoxic, recyclable, energy absorbent, less thermally conductive, less magnetically permeable, and more efficiently sound dampening, especially when compared to hollow parts. Metallic foams in hollow car parts decrease weakness points usually associated with car crashes and vibration. These foams are inexpensive to cast with powder metallurgy, compared to casting other hollow parts.

Compared to polymer foams in vehicles, metallic foams are stiffer, stronger, more energy absorbent, and resistant to fire and the weather adversities of UV light, humidity, and temperature variation. However, they are heavier, more expensive, and non-insulating.[25]

Metal foam technology has been applied to automotive exhaust gas.[26] Compared to traditional catalytic converters that use cordierite ceramic as substrate, metal foam substrate offers better heat transfer and exhibits excellent mass-transport properties (high turbulence) and may reduce the quantity of platinum catalyst required.[27]


Metal foams are popular support for electrocatalysts due to the high surface area and stable structure. The interconnected pores also benefit the mass transport of reactants and products. However, the benchmark of electrocatalysts can be difficult due to the undetermined surface area, different foam properties, and capillary effect.[28]

Energy absorption

Aluminium crash graph

Metal foams are used for stiffening a structure without increasing its mass.[29] For this application, metal foams are generally closed pore and made of aluminium. Foam panels are glued to the aluminum plate to obtain a resistant composite sandwich locally (in the sheet thickness) and rigid along the length depending on the foam's thickness.

The advantage of metal foams is that the reaction is constant, regardless of the direction of the force. Foams have a plateau of stress after deformation that is constant for as much as 80% of the crushing.[30]


Heat conduction in regular metal foam structure
Heat transfer in regular metal foam structure

Tian et al.[31] listed several criteria to assess a foam in a heat exchanger. The comparison of thermal-performance metal foams with materials conventionally used in the intensification of exchange (fins, coupled surfaces, bead bed) first shows that the pressure losses caused by foams are much more important than with conventional fins, yet are significantly lower than those of beads. The exchange coefficients are close to beds and ball and well above the blades.[32][33]

Foams offer other thermophysical and mechanical features:

  • Very low mass (density 5–25% of the bulk solid depending on the manufacturing method)
  • Large exchange surface (250–10000 m2/m3)
  • Relatively high permeability
  • Relatively high effective thermal conductivities (5–30 W/(mK))
  • Good resistance to thermal shocks, high pressures, high temperatures, moisture, wear and thermal cycling
  • Good absorption of mechanical shock and sound
  • Pore size and porosity can be controlled by the manufacturer

Commercialization of foam-based compact heat exchangers, heat sinks and shock absorbers is limited due to the high cost of foam replications. Their long-term resistance to fouling, corrosion and erosion are insufficiently characterized. From a manufacturing standpoint, the transition to foam technology requires new production and assembly techniques and heat exchanger design.

See also


  1. ^ Compare Materials: Cast Aluminium and Aluminium Foam Archived 2010-04-30 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2011-11-19.
  2. ^ John Banhart. "What are cellular metals and metal foams?" Archived 2010-12-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Topin, F.; Bonnet, J. -P.; Madani, B.; Tadrist, L. (2006). "Experimental Analysis of Multiphase Flow in Metallic foam: Flow Laws, Heat Transfer and Convective Boiling". Advanced Engineering Materials. 8 (9): 890. doi:10.1002/adem.200600102.
  4. ^ Banhart, J. (2001). "Manufacture, Characterization and application of cellular metals and metal foams". Progress in Materials Science. 46 (6): 559–632. doi:10.1016/S0079-6425(00)00002-5.
  5. ^ DeGroot, C.T., Straatman, A.G., and Betchen, L.J. (2009). "Modeling forced convection in finned metal foam heat sinks". Journal of Electronic Packaging. 131 (2): 021001. doi:10.1115/1.3103934.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Ralph Wolf; Khalid Mansour. "The Amazing Metal Sponge: Soaking Up Hydrogen" Archived 2015-11-16 at the Wayback Machine. 1995.
  7. ^ De Meller, M.A. French Patent 615,147 (1926).
  8. ^ Sosnick, B. U.S. Patent 2,434,775 (1948).
  9. ^ Sosnick, B. U.S. Patent 2,553,016 (1951).
  10. ^ a b Recherche sur la production de pièces de fonderie en mousse métallique – Recherche en fonderie : les mousses métalliques Archived 2013-10-29 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-12-03.
  11. ^ a b ALVEOTEC – Innovation Archived 2014-07-30 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-12-03.
  12. ^ "ALVEOTEC - Actualités - video : making process of aluminium foam". Archived from the original on 2014-07-30.
  13. ^ Banhart, John (2000). "Manufacturing Routes for Metallic Foams". JOM. Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. 52 (12): 22–27. Bibcode:2000JOM....52l..22B. doi:10.1007/s11837-000-0062-8. S2CID 137735453. Archived from the original on 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  14. ^ Bonaccorsi, L.; Proverbio, E. (1 September 2006). "Powder Compaction Effect on Foaming Behavior of Uni-Axial Pressed PM Precursors". Advanced Engineering Materials. 8 (9): 864–869. doi:10.1002/adem.200600082.
  15. ^ Shiomi, M.; Imagama, S.; Osakada, K.; Matsumoto, R. (2010). "Fabrication of aluminium foams from powder by hot extrusion and foaming". Journal of Materials Processing Technology. 210 (9): 1203–1208. doi:10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2010.03.006.
  16. ^ Dunand, [editors] Louis Philippe Lefebvre, John Banhart, David C. (2008). MetFoam 2007 : porous metals and metallic foams : proceedings of the fifth International Conference on Porous Metals and Metallic Foams, September 5–7, 2007, Montreal Canada. Lancaster, Pa.: DEStech Publications Inc. pp. 7–10. ISBN 978-1932078282.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Strano, M.; Pourhassan, R.; Mussi, V. (2013). "The effect of cold rolling on the foaming efficiency of aluminium precursors". Journal of Manufacturing Processes. 15 (2): 227. doi:10.1016/j.jmapro.2012.12.006.
  18. ^ ALVEOTEC - Actualités - LOUPI Lighing launches his new metal foam heatsink for lighting application_66.html Archived 2014-07-30 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-12-03.
  19. ^ Osseointegration with Titanium Foam in Rabbit Femur Archived 2016-04-18 at the Wayback Machine, YouTube
  20. ^ Titanium coatings on Orthopedic Devices Archived 2016-03-13 at the Wayback Machine. Youtube
  21. ^ Biomet Orthopedics, Regenerex® Porous Titanium Construct Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Zimmer Orthopedics, Trabeluar Metal Technology Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Zimmer CSTiTM (Cancellous-Structured Titanium TM) Porous Coating Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Strano, Matteo (2011). "A New FEM Approach for Simulation of Metal Foam Filled Tubes". Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering. 133 (6): 061003. doi:10.1115/1.4005354.
  25. ^ New Concept for Design of Lightweight Automotive Components Archived 2012-03-24 at the Wayback Machine. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2013-12-03.
  26. ^ Alantum Innovations in Alloy Foam: Home Archived 2010-02-17 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2011-11-19.
  27. ^ Development of Metal Foam Based Aftertreatment on a Diesel Passenger Car – Virtual Conference Center[permanent dead link]. Retrieved on 2011-11-19.
  28. ^ Zheng, Weiran; Liu, Mengjie; Lee, Lawrence Yoon Suk (9 October 2020). "Best Practices in Using Foam-Type Electrodes for Electrocatalytic Performance Benchmark". ACS Energy Letters. 5 (10): 3260–3264. doi:10.1021/acsenergylett.0c01958.
  29. ^ Banhart, John; Dunand, David C. (2008). MetFoam 2007: Porous Metals and Metallic Foams : Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Porous Metals and Metallic Foams, September 5-7, 2007, Montreal Canada. DEStech Publications, Inc. ISBN 9781932078282.
  30. ^ ALVEOTEC – Actualités – Examples of metal foam applications. Archived 2014-07-30 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2013-12-03.
  31. ^ Tian, J.; Kim, T.; Lu, T. J.; Hodson, H. P.; Queheillalt, D. T.; Sypeck, D. J.; Wadley, H. N. G. (2004). "The effects of topology upon fluid-flow and heat-transfer within cellular copper structures" (PDF). International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer. 47 (14–16): 3171. doi:10.1016/j.ijheatmasstransfer.2004.02.010. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-03.
  32. ^ Miscevic, M. (1997). Etude de l'intensification des transferts thermiques par des structures poreuses: Application aux échangeurs compacts et au refroidissement diphasique. IUSTI. Marseille., Université de Provence
  33. ^ Catillon, S., C. Louis, et al. (2005). Utilisation de mousses métalliques dans un réformeur catalytique du méthanol pour la production de H2. GECAT, La Rochelle.

External links

  • Video : Aluminium regular foam: Crash box test
  • Video : How regular foams are made
  • NASA Fact sheet FS-2003-09-117-MSFC — Viscous Liquid Foam and Bulk Metallic Glass (Foam)
  • How to Make an Aluminium Metal Foam on YouTube
  • Fischer, S. F.; Thielen, M.; Weiß, P.; Seidel, R.; Speck, T.; Bührig-Polaczek, A.; Bünck, M. (2013). "Production and properties of a precision-cast bio-inspired composite". Journal of Materials Science. 49: 43–51. doi:10.1007/s10853-013-7878-4. S2CID 136318878.
  • Bullet destruction video on YouTube