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July 1st, 2009

Low-spec bullet-proof vests from cement?

Published on July 1st, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org
Philip Purnell with cement. (Credit: Simon and Simon Photography)

Philip Purnell with cement. (Credit: Simon and Simon Photography)

The cement wardrobe is finally growing, and this development is waaay better than shoes. Work is under way in the U.K. at University of Leeds’ School of Civil Engineering to use cement to make bullet-proof vests. They will be made from ultra-strong cement with recycled carbon filters and will be aimed at protecting nonmilitary personnel who find themselves amid gunfire.

Bullet-proof vests are currently made from alumina, but Philip Purnell, who is leading the research team, thinks cement can become a cheaper alternative. “It should be good enough for people like security guards, reporters and aid workers who are worried about the odd pot shot being taken at them. The fact is many of the armored vests sold today are over-engineered for the threats they face,” says Purnell.

“Cement-based body armor would not only create a whole new market but it would also take some of the pressure off the demand for hi-spec alumina models so that people like soldiers, who really need this kit, can get it.”

Purnell wants a team of engineers, scientists and researchers to help with the project, Cementing the Future, which he believes will uncover other uses for the material. He hopes to find more ways of using cement and has already cited other areas such as medicine and refrigeration.

“The bullet-proof vest is a small part of a much wider project. Cement is already used in waste disposal, by dentists and by spinal surgeons,” he said.

But Purnell warned that the £100,000 ($165,600) grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is only enough to get the project up and running. “That investment is to build a network of scientists who are looking to find new ways of using cement,” he said.

Purnell believes the project could cut the cost of body armor by up to 90 percent. It is the hope that the cement vest may ease the shortage of enhanced combat body armor for troops.


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