Exceptionally strong and lightweight new metal created

December 23, 2015
At left, a deformed sample of pure metal; at right, the strong new metal made of magnesium with silicon carbide nanoparticles. Each central micropillar is about 4 micrometers across. Credit: UCLA Scifacturing Laboratory

A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

To create the super-strong but lightweight metal, the team found a new way to disperse and stabilize nanoparticles in . They also developed a scalable manufacturing method that could pave the way for more high-performance lightweight metals. The research was published today in Nature.

"It's been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now," said Xiaochun Li, the principal investigator on the research and Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing Engineering at UCLA. "With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today's society."

Structural metals are load-bearing metals; they are used in buildings and vehicles. Magnesium, at just two-thirds the density of aluminum, is the lightest structural metal. Silicon carbide is an ultra-hard ceramic commonly used in industrial cutting blades. The researchers' technique of infusing a large number of silicon carbide smaller than 100 nanometers into magnesium added significant strength, stiffness, plasticity and durability under high temperatures.

The researchers' new silicon carbide-infused magnesium demonstrated record levels of specific strength—how much weight a material can withstand before breaking—and specific modulus—the material's stiffness-to-weight ratio. It also showed superior stability at high temperatures.

Ceramic particles have long been considered as a potential way to make metals stronger. However, with microscale ceramic particles, the infusion process results in a loss of plasticity.

Nanoscale particles, by contrast, can enhance strength while maintaining or even improving metals' plasticity. But nanoscale tend to clump together rather than dispersing evenly, due to the tendency of small particles to attract one other.

To counteract this issue, researchers dispersed the particles into a molten magnesium zinc alloy. The newly discovered nanoparticle dispersion relies on the kinetic energy in the particles' movement. This stabilizes the particles' dispersion and prevents clumping.

To further enhance the new metal's strength, the researchers used a technique called high-pressure torsion to compress it.

"The results we obtained so far are just scratching the surface of the hidden treasure for a new class of metals with revolutionary properties and functionalities," Li said.

The new metal (more accurately called a nanocomposite) is about 14 percent nanoparticles and 86 percent magnesium. The researchers noted that is an abundant resource and that scaling up its use would not cause environmental damage.

Explore further: A metal composite that will (literally) float your boat

More information: Lian-Yi Chen et al. Processing and properties of magnesium containing a dense uniform dispersion of nanoparticles, Nature (2015). DOI: 10.1038/nature16445

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18 comments

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ab3a
5 / 5 (6) Dec 24, 2015
People have been looking at building with Magnesium for a long time.

Magnesium looks like a wonderful metal for building lots of things. The primary problem with building anything with magnesium is that it ignites, very few things can extinguish it.

So my question is this: would the 14% Silicon carbide inhibit this problem? Somehow, I doubt it.
peabody3000
5 / 5 (2) Dec 24, 2015
magnesium can catch on fire and burn so intensely that water cant put it out. so, how about this composite?
Zorcon
2.5 / 5 (6) Dec 24, 2015
"Would the 14% Silicon carbide inhibit this (flammability) problem?"

Making a log into plywood does not make it less flammable.
Extruding steel into I-beams does not make it rustproof.

People have been looking at building with steel and wood for a long time, but I guess they are both useless.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (4) Dec 24, 2015
Rusting steel is a long term problem. Burning magnesium is an immediate emergency. Ever see a mag wheel factory burn? I have, and it was a pain to put out.

Magnesium burns faster if you put water on it.

Burying the stuff in dry sand doesn't put it out, because there's enough oxygen between the grains to keep it burning.

According to my hazmat manual, recommended extinguishing agents are graphite, soda ash, or powdered sodium chloride, none of which are readily available to most fire depts., or in quantities needed for a structural fire.

As for plywood, humans have known wood burns since we discovered fire, and we allow for that in our designs. Need fire-proof structures? Don't use wood!
DavidW
1.9 / 5 (8) Dec 25, 2015
Good stuff. It was told that it burns hot enough to ignite aluminum. I also have worries about the size of the particles. Machining it and breathing the dust could be very problematic, in addition to the flash issue raised and the only ways to put it out. We had a titanium fire next door, twice. The first time a someone with the fire department was killed. The next time they evacuated everyone for a block and let it burn out. There is a lot to learn about new materials. Strength, nice. Low lets hear about how it may not be safer, so those issues can be regulated, if deemed reasonable by the reasoned consent of the people at large that have all the known truthful facts.
my2cts
3 / 5 (12) Dec 25, 2015
Here's the real DavidW, a religious maniac who accuses those who disagree with him of murder or of being like Hitler:
"There is only a True and Living God. There can be no other. The True and Living God communicates through the Word. The Word is the Truth witnessed by Life. The most important thing the True and Living God has said is: 'Life is Most Important in Life'.
Your knowledge of your own intent is concerning, as you are most important.
You seem to want others to not accept that life is most important in life is true. Is this the case?
Let's stand at the first solid place and then take a closer look at what is going on around us.
Do you agree that life is most important in life is the most important truth in life?
If so, why do you fight against it. If not, there is nothing more important for you to reconsider."

Lets get hime banned from pays.org.
DavidW
3 / 5 (4) Dec 26, 2015
Here's the real DavidW, a religious maniac who accuses those who disagree with him of murder or of being like Hitler:
"There is only a True and Living God. There can be no other. The True and Living God communicates through the Word. The Word is the Truth witnessed by Life. The most important thing the True and Living God has said is: 'Life is Most Important in Life'.
Your knowledge of your own intent is concerning, as you are most important.
You seem to want others to not accept that life is most important in life is true. Is this the case?
Let's stand at the first solid place and then take a closer look at what is going on around us.
Do you agree that life is most important in life is the most important truth in life?
If so, why do you fight against it. If not, there is nothing more important for you to reconsider."

Lets get hime banned from pays.org.


You didn't answer the question. You seem to think banning others for proving you tell lies is beneficial.
yemethus
5 / 5 (3) Dec 27, 2015
Light and strong material, it could be useful for flywheel mechanical power storage
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Dec 27, 2015
Light and strong material, it could be useful for flywheel mechanical power storage

Thank you, Yemeth..
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2015
True, and since flywheels work best in a vacuum, there would be little fire danger. As long as the bearing seals don't leak, no problems, and if they do, any significant leak would slow the flywheel, which would be very noticeable.
Moltvic
not rated yet Dec 28, 2015
Was going to try and make a "jet fuel" joke but it's not even worth it.
Macrocompassion
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2015
Clearly its not only a magnesium bonded material which has been developed, and in any case, its fire resistance ability is not necessarily so poor, when the magnesium parts of certain existing aircraft were compared to different parts of the complete aircraft.

The high stiffness may be a problem on aircraft during landing and other kinds of impact (hail) because the associated self-generated forces can be greater than when a more flexible material is used. Also what about the fatigue resistance of these new composites?
Mike_Massen
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2016
ab3a offered
Magnesium looks like a wonderful metal for building lots of things. The primary problem with building anything with magnesium is that it ignites, very few things can extinguish it
Able to get around it quite easily for things like engine blocks, BMW have been using Mg as main structural element in their sports 'Z' series vehicles, the Mg is encased in aluminium or duralamin and of course steel liners probably silicon oriented for lowest friction as in the BMW 850 series but, don't recall that heavy car using Mg

ab3a asked
So my question is this: would the 14% Silicon carbide inhibit this problem? Somehow, I doubt it
Yeah me too, one wonders if bonding with boron may further moderate flammability potential...
Uncle Ira
3.5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2016
Light and strong material, it could be useful for flywheel mechanical power storage


The whole principle of flywheel operation is based on inertia and momentum. More mass he has, more energy he can store. Strong is good, but you need as much mass as you can get into him to store what you call "power". "Light" is not a good thing in the flywheel.
gkam
3 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2016
When I was in the power business, most newer flywheels used lighter, fiber composite flywheels at very high speeds on floating bearings.

The formula is F=1/2 MV2, or the mass times the square of the velocity. Ramping up velocity stores more energy.
Uncle Ira
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2016
When I was in the power business, most newer flywheels used lighter, fiber composite flywheels at very high speeds on floating bearings.

The formula is F=1/2 MV2, or the mass times the square of the velocity. Ramping up velocity stores more energy.


That is true, the energy density goes up when you speed him up. But the lighter the material, the greater the diameter you need to get the same energy density. Fast light larger-radius are the nightmare to engineer.

Oh yeah, I almost forget. Sorry glam-Skippy but you must have missed one or more of your engineering lessons. F = m v^2, not 1/2 m v^2. (KE = 1/2 m v^2) Not being in the business you would not know that so it's okay.
gkam
2.5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2016
Did I make Ira go to the books?

It must be terrible to be enslaved to following me around, watching what I do so you can down-rate it. Is there anything else in that little life?
Uncle Ira
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2016
Did I make Ira go to the books?

Non you did not make me go to the books. I work with flywheels and machinery, so I knew this thing. Did Ira-Skippy make you look stupid AGAIN for pointing out your blurts and blahs should be taken as a "probably wrong"? Make me go to the books, is that the best you got? Really?

Cher, I know this is going to surprise you, probably nobody has told you this before because of your fragile emotional condition, but you really are not very good at this.

It must be terrible to be enslaved to following me around, watching what I do so you can down-rate it.


I did not down rate you couyon. Sorry but I got ask. Have you ever made a postum without tripping over your own witty glibbly smart self?

Is there anything else in that little life?

I have a mighty fine life. At least I have more than going to a science site to pretend to be all things I never was and make so many foolish mistakes that I am the laughingstock.

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