Corinna Petry headshot
BY corinna petry

ne can never overestimate the value of collaboration; this is particularly true for research and development. Our cover story this month (Page 18) highlights a few of the many R&D projects that chemists, metallurgists, engineers, physicists and digital geniuses are producing all the time, all over the world.

Potential applications are too numerous to mention but improvements in automotive light weighting, reductions in CO2 emissions during production, lowering waste output to zero, removing corrosive elements at the atomic level, and eliminating one or more steps in creating extrusions all promise leaps in metal’s technological prowess.

The collaboration is possible because universities, research centers and national laboratories are seeking answers to questions that will help bolster advances in both pure and applied science.

A £35 million research network links steelmakers and university experts in a seven-year research program called Sustain, which aims to make the industry carbon neutral by 2040. Led by Swansea University, Sustain partners with the universities of Sheffield and Warwick and more than 20 steel industry participants across Great Britain.

The network will investigate new ways to make processes and products greener, such as harvesting untapped energy sources, capturing carbon emissions, and reprocessing societal and industrial waste streams.

“Developing higher performance steels with reduced carbon footprint during manufacture is key to reducing CO2 emissions and therefore contributing to the reduction in global warming,” stated University of Sheffield Professor Mark Rainforth.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, has produced nano-structured rods and tubes directly from high-performance aluminum alloy powder in a single step, using a Solid Phase Processing approach. The research team eliminated several steps required during conventional extrusion processing of aluminum alloy powders, while achieving a significant increase in product ductility.

Applications might be found in sectors such as automobile manufacturing, where high costs historically limited the use of powdered high-strength aluminum alloys. High-performance aluminum alloys made from powder have long been used in lightweight components for aerospace applications but were too expensive for the auto industry.

“The elimination of processing steps and the need for preheating could dramatically reduce production time as well as lower the cost and overall embedded energy within the product,” PNNL materials scientist Scott Whalen, who led the study, said.

NASA has tested shape memory alloys for several research projects, including Martian rock-splitters and wheels for its rovers, but NASA is now working with Boeing Co. to test how SMAs can be used in deployable vortex generators, the small fins on airplane wings that help control airflow during flight.

Airframe designers will be able to use this tool to reduce drag throughout the entirety of a flight. Future airplanes would adjust functions in response to changes in temperature, altitude and airspeed, making them more adaptive and more like birds.

What should not be overlooked is that a great many of the projects, even with corporate funding, include a component of knowledge sharing. That is, what good comes out of it is available for others to employ and profit from. The great hope is that all these efforts will make metals stronger, lighter, cleaner, more efficient and longer lasting while creating jobs and a safer environment for workers and consumers.

What do you think?
Post your comments on our Facebook page.