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Next up in body protection: Cement armor

The cement bulletproof vest would offer a cost-effective level of protection for people in semi-risky occupations short of full-on combat.

University of Leeds

Engineers in England have come up with a product to save a few bob for those who work in semi-dangerous occupations--cement body armor.

The vests combine "super strong" cement with recycled carbon fiber, making the vests tough enough to withstand most bullet calibers, according to researchers at the University of Leeds' School of Civil Engineering.

Currently, top-of-the-line bulletproof vests are made with alumina plates--the raw material used to make aluminum--through a costly process called sintering, which involves heating the material for up to two weeks at 1600 degrees Celsius to harden it.

The cement vest, on the other hand, would offer a cost-effective level of protection for people in semi-risky occupations short of full-on combat.

"By using cement instead of alumina we are confident we can deliver a cost-effective level of protection for many people at risk," said research team leader Philip Purnell. "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."

British and U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have faced shortages of the alumina plate-based vests in the past due to worldwide demand, according to the team.

"The fact is many of the armored vests sold today are over-engineered for the threats (soldiers) face," Purnell said. "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."

The cement vest project is still in the early research stages and is part of the university's three-year search--dubbed "Cementing the future"--for new and novel uses of the 2,000-year-old material.

The team is soliciting suggestions from other researchers, engineers, scientists, designers, or even sculptors and artists. Ideas to date include "cement-based pump-less fridges, a new type of catalytic converter and improved bone replacements." Here's a tip--chances are, they already know about the shoes.