DETROIT — Deformation crash elements are not the subject of everyday conversation, but are on the list of many unique and thinking-out-of-the-box innovations at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress here.

The idea comes from Emitec, a German supplier that produces metallic substrates for catalytic converters. The substrate is the latticework-like grid that holds the precious metals that clean up engine exhaust. At the request of an automaker customer, Emitec has taken its substrate and re-engineered it as something completely different — a crumple zone.

The substrate could serve as the mounting device that connects the front bumper to the car. It is made of aluminum foil, so it's light and it squishes down like an accordian, so the substrate's design and material usage makes it the almost-ideal absorber of much of the force of a low-speed collision. The heavy deformation characteristics also help to prevent damage to the frame structure.

Now all Emitec has to do is come up with a better name than “deformation crash element.”