10 amazing materials that could transform our tech

Designers will soon have a whole new set of materials to play with

Nanocellulose is incredibly strong and applications range from batteries to body armour

7. Metal Foam

As the name suggests, metal foam is metal with a lot of holes it in: it's a metallic structure containing huge numbers of gas-filled pores. It's very strong, but as more than three quarters of it is empty space it's also exceptionally light.

That makes it particularly well suited for applications including prosthetic bones and joints, construction, soundproofing and heat insulation. It's particularly interesting to car manufacturers: it's a very effective shock absorber that adds strength without also adding weight.

Metal Foam
Metal foam: the bubbles make it light and the metal makes it strong [Credit: SecretDisc on Wikipedia]

8. Bioplastics

Bioplastics have been around for a while - NEC was banging on about them six years ago - but they haven't become mainstream yet.

That's because despite their green credentials - while normal plastics generally come from fossil fuels and don't biodegreate, bioplastics are made from natural sources such as vegetable oils and cellulose and/or don't clog up landfills forever - they've been pricey to produce.

That's slowly changing, and according to trade organisation European Bioplastics the market for bioplastics is growing more than 20% per year.

NEC's 2007 N701iECO was partly made from corn, but other firms have yet to embrace the material

9. Nanodots and perovskite

One of the big problems with solar power is that solar panels are horribly inefficient: today, 20% efficiency is considered pretty good. Researchers at Stanford University believe that gold "nanodots" could lead to much thinner, much more efficient solar panels.

In the meantime, dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSCs) offer similar efficiencies to current solar panels but at much lower costs, driving down the per-watt cost of solar electricity. DSSCs use perovskite, an abundant mineral that you'll also find in piezoelectric components and fuel cells.

Stanford University scientists have created the thinnest, most efficient light absorber ever made [Credit: Stanford University]

10. E-skin

Engineers at UC Berkeley have created what they call e-skin, a plastic film containing a transistor, organic LED and pressure sensor in each pixel.

It's flexible and can be laminated onto almost anything, with possible applications including touch-sensitive controls in cars, wallpapers that work as touch screens or robots with a very delicate sense of touch.

According to study co-lead author Chuan Wang, "I could also imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates."