Innovation: A Cheaper Alternative to Kevlar
Tougher Than a Speeding Bullet
Kevlar has long been the bulletproof material of choice for military and law enforcement agencies. But Kevlar is costly to produce, involving a complex process of spinning fibers and the use of sulfuric acid. Novana, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, says it has developed an antiballistic material, ABC-Matrix, that is just as tough but less expensive to make. To do so, Novana melts polymers from recycled plastics, including auto parts, and molds them into a lightweight material with microscopic structures that absorb and dissipate energy from bullets. The material, which is also waterproof and flame retardant, can withstand 3,000 rounds of fire from an AK-47 rifle. Novana has received a $70,000 grant from the Department of Defense to develop ABC-Matrix for use on battlefield vehicles. The company plans to begin selling it by 2013 for less than $10 a pound, a small fraction of the cost of Kevlar.
Shown here is a magnification of a three-quarter-inch-thick piece of Novana's antiballistic material and the remains of an armor-piercing bullet shot into the material at close range. In the same test, an identical bullet went straight through a half-inch-thick steel plate.
On the Mend
After taking a hit from a bullet, the polymers in Novana's material meld back together.