The present study focuses on the preparation and characterization of lab-scale aluminum syntactic foams (ASFs) filled with hollow carbon spheres (HCSs). A new and original process for the fabrication of HCSs was explored. Firstly, expanded polystyrene beads with an average diameter of 6 mm and coated with carbon fibers/thermoset phenolic resin were produced by the “rolling ball” method. In the next step, the spheres were cured and post-cured, and then carbonized at 1050 °C under vacuum to form the HCSs. The porosity in the shell of the HCSs was decreased by increasing the number of impregnation–carbonization cycles. The aluminum syntactic foams were fabricated by casting the molten aluminum into a crucible filled with HCSs. The morphology of the hollow spheres before and after carbonization was investigated by scanning electron microscope (SEM). The compressive properties of the ASF were tested and the energy absorption capacities were calculated according to stress–strain curves. The results showed that the ASF filled with HCSs which had been treated by more cycles of impregnation–carbonization had higher energy absorption capacity. The aluminum syntactic foam absorbed 34.9 MJ/m3
(28.8 KJ/Kg) at 60% strain, which was much higher than traditional closed cell aluminum foams without particles. The HCSs have a promising future in producing a novel family of metal matrix syntactic foams.
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