Composite materials designed to reduce the impact of bomb blasts in public areas are to be developed at Liverpool University.
Engineers and materials technologists at the university’s Impact Research Centre aim to create a flexible, lightweight lining that can be built into litter bins, letterboxes and other street furniture.
Drawing on the university’s previous research into fibre-metal laminate structures (FMLs), the project team, led by Dr Graham Schleyer, a blast expert, and materials technology specialist Prof Wesley Cantwell will test materials based on stacked arrangements of aluminium alloy and fibre-reinforced composites.
According to Schleyer, these have demonstrated highly promising qualities in terms of containing blast energy and absorbing fragments sent flying by an explosion – for example in the case of a nail bomb attack.
The project is being backed by the Home Office and Westminster Council, the local authority for much of central London – the area considered most at risk from terrorist attack. It has also received funding from the EPSRC.
Schleyer said the team aims to come up with an optimised design for a blast-resistant lining that meets the various criteria needed for widespread adoption by customers such as Westminster Council.
These include the flexibility to be conveniently and unobtrusively fitted to street furniture. ‘We also want these linings to be manufactured easily and competitively,’ said Schleyer.
Schleyer – who has been researching the effects of explosions since the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster in 1988 – said it was impossible to be precise over the degree of protection offered by FMLs until testing, which begins next month, is complete.The force of the blast would inevitably be a major factor.
‘We are obviously not talking about something that can withstand a full-scale missile attack,’ said Schleyer. ‘But we do want to reduce damage and injury, and move from the current situation where there is no protection to offering some protection.’
If the project is successful in creating an effective lightweight composite, Schleyer said it could eventually have wider applications in providing blast protection for industries such as aerospace.