As Hurricane Isaac heads for shore, people living along the coast are finding ways to batten down the hatches. Nailing sheets of plywood over windows is one such protection. But recycled panels based on the latest military armor might be a better choice.

Uday Vaidya, a professor of materials science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has been testing recyclable, light thermoplastics and resins — materials similar to those used in modern armored vehicles. Vaidya's plastic is stronger than steel and weighs a fifth as much.

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The panels could be used to reinforce an house, not just the windows. They're designed to look like white interior walls and because they're plastic, they don't corrode and never need painting. At Texas Tech University, researchers from the National Storm Shelter Association fired lumber — two-by-fours weighing about 15 pounds — at the panels at 100 miles per hour. That's about the speed lumber would reach if tossed about by a category 5 hurricane or a tornado.

As an added bonus the plastic comes from the linings used in wrapping pipes for offshore oil rigs. Ordinarily the stuff would go to landfills.

Vaidya wants to test a roof and door, as well, which would allow for an entire hurricane-proof shelter. It's possible the materials would be ready in time for next year's storm season.

Image: University of Alabama, Birmingham