Nearly Hard as Steel: Aluminum with Fullerenes

Jul 16, 2010
Russian researchers with Siemens Corporate Technology (CT) are using special carbon nanoparticles to optimize materials. They are adding fullerenes—soccer ball-shaped molecules comprising 60 carbon atoms— to aluminum to obtain a new material that is roughly three times harder than conventional composites, yet weights much less. The lightweight yet strong aluminum could be used to improve the performance of compressors, turbochargers and engines.

Russian researchers with Siemens Corporate Technology (CT) are using special carbon nanoparticles to optimize materials. They are adding fullerenes -- soccer ball-shaped molecules comprising 60 carbon atoms -- to aluminum to obtain a new material that is roughly three times harder than conventional composites, yet weights much less. The lightweight yet strong aluminum could be used to improve the performance of compressors, turbochargers and engines.

The pure carbon fullerenes have high mechanical stability at a low weight. Aluminum and C60 are ground under an argon atmosphere into tiny grains with a diameter of just a few nanometers, or millionths of a millimeter. The two substances then bond with one another to form the new material. Special mills grind the aluminum, and the ultrafine powder is pressed into a new material. Roughly one percent by weight of fullerenes is sufficient to imbue the material with sufficient hardness.

Siemens envisages a variety of applications for the hard aluminum. Turbines with lighter rotors can deliver higher speeds and make compressors or engines more efficient. One could coat superconducting cables with the material to improve their stability. They would then be able to withstand stronger currents, which in turn would make machines such as tomography scanners more powerful. Because fullerenes barely affect the of the aluminum, aluminum electric cables could be made thinner to save material.

In another project, the CT researchers improved materials known as thermoelectricals. These generate an electric voltage from a temperature differential, thus producing energy from the waste heat of a device. Together with the Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials (TISNCM) in Troisk outside of Moscow, they improved the performance of thermoelectricals by 20 percent. The fullerenes restrict the and thus keep more of the heat to be converted in the material. The researchers expect to be able to generate around 50 watts of energy from a temperature differential of 100 degrees and a surface area of 100 square centimeters.

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User comments : 10

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shavera
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2010
This is cool, and seems like it could even be useful/used in the near future.
Scalziand
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
I wonder what the fatigue limits are for this material.
resinoth
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
so this is 'foaming' aluminum with fullerine orbs? AWESOME!
stars our destination
adamshegrud
not rated yet Jul 16, 2010
This stuff sounds great.

I want a bike made of this right now!
eachus
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2010
This is what I call "first shoe" research. Great and groundbreaking, but I am sure there are lots of labs already at work on the next step. Why mix the materials as powder? Because they don't mix naturally. Pour a bucket of buckyballs on molten aluminum, and they will just float on top.

What is needed is to find a compound of C60 or C70, or nanotubes that makes it mix with the aluminum. If I was going to try I would start with nanotubes grown on silicon. You make your guess and start working. ;-)

The goal is to have a material with the same properties that doesn't require powder forming. Much more generally useful, and very much cheaper. By the way many aircraft turbine blades are now made by powder metallurgy. It costs, but it is the only way to get the desired properties.
Scalziand
5 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2010
^Actually, powder forming is fairly common for regular aluminum anyway.
Skultch
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
Me want fast spooling blades for turbo on car! hehehehehe

Seriously, though, this might make a dent in the efficiency of turbo diesel trucks. I still don't understand why their aren't more turbo charged auto engines out there, for efficiency reasons.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
^Actually, powder forming is fairly common for regular aluminum anyway.

Yep, you beat me to it. Aluminum is often powderformed because it oxidizes before it melts. It's more expensive to maintain molten aluminum because of the needed environment and maintenance of said environment.
JoelF
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
The last part of the article, about thermoelectricals, implies that a solar thermoelectrical panel could easily produce 40-50x the electricity of a typical polysilicon panel (100 watts per m^2), at least in the first few seconds before thermal equilibrium between the hot and cold side is reached. Therefore, the 50w per 100 cm^2 mentioned in the article is probably an overstatement.
plasticpower
5 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2010
The researchers expect to be able to generate around 50 watts of energy from a temperature differential of 100 degrees and a surface area of 100 square centimeters.

/\ That sounds a bit far fetched. You slap that on the exhaust manifold of a car and you can get rid of the alternator once it's warmed up. There are many uses for sure.