July 25, 2015

Metal Foam can allow lighter radiation shielding that is twice as effective as Aluminum

North Carolina State University researchers have found that lightweight composite metal foams they had developed are effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays, and neutron radiation, and are capable of absorbing the energy of high-impact collisions. The finding holds promise for use in nuclear power plants, space exploration, and CT-scanner shielding.

“This work means there’s an opportunity to use composite metal foam to develop safer systems for transporting nuclear waste, more efficient designs for spacecraft and nuclear structures, and new shielding for use in CT scanners,” says

Afsaneh Rabiei, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, first developed the strong, lightweight metal foam made of steel, tungsten, and and vanadium for use in transportation and military applications. But she wanted to determine whether the foam could be used for nuclear or space exploration applications — could it provide structural support and protect against high impacts while providing shielding against various forms of radiation?

Lightweight composite metal foams like this one have been found effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays and neutron radiation, and are capable of absorbing the energy of high impact collisions — holding promise for use in nuclear safety, space exploration, and medical technology applications (credit: Afsaneh Rabiei, North Carolina State University)

Attenuation efficiency of X-ray and comparison to gamma ray and neutrons in composite metal foams

• Composite metal foams (CMF) processed with various sphere sizes and matrix materials.
• Samples were experimentally tested against X-ray, neutron and gamma.
• High-Z elements in the matrix of CMFs improved their shielding effectiveness.
• Experimental results were compared with numerical model.
• High-Z elements did not degrade the mechanical performance of CMFs.


Steel–steel composite metal foams (S–S CMFs) and Aluminum–steel composite metal foams (Al–S CMFs) with various sphere sizes and matrix materials were manufactured and investigated for nuclear and radiation environments applications. 316 L Stainless steel, high-speed T15 steel and aluminum materials were used as the matrix material together with 2, 4 and 5.2 mm steel hollow spheres to manufacture various types of composite metal foams (CMFs). High-speed T15 steel is selected due to its high tungsten and vanadium concentration (both high-Z elements) to further improve the shielding efficiency of CMFs. This new type of S–S CMF is called high-Z steel–steel composite metal foam (HZ S–S CMF). Radiation shielding efficiency of all types of CMFs was explored for the attenuation of X-ray, gamma ray and neutron. The experimental results were compared with pure lead and Aluminum A356, and verified theoretically through XCOM and Monte Carlo Z-particle Transport Code (MCNP). It was observed that the radiation shielding effectiveness of CMFs is relatively independent of sphere sizes as long as the ratio of sphere-wall thickness to its outer-radius stays constant. However, the smaller spheres seem to be more efficient in general due to the fine fluctuation in the gray value profile of their 2D Micro-CT images. S–S CMFs and Al–S CMFs are respectively 275% and 145% more effective for X-ray attenuation than Aluminum A356. Compared to pure lead, CMFs show adequate attenuation with additional advantages of being lightweight and more environmentally friendly. The mechanical performance of HZ S–S CMFs under quasi-static compression was compared to that of other classes of S–S CMF. It is observed that the addition of high-Z elements to the matrix of CMFs improved their shielding against X-rays, low energy gamma rays and neutrons, while maintained their low density, high mechanical properties and high-energy absorption capability.

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