Powdermet pursues nanoparticle-infused aluminum alloys for auto industry, military

Can aluminum alloy demonstrate the strength of steel without the weight? Powdermet hopes so as the race for more fuel-efficient vehicles heats up.

Material science company Powdermet announced on Monday that it has entered into joint venture with Oshkosh Corp., Eck Industries and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop nanostructured, high-strength, lightweight metals.

Powdermet specializes in the manufacture of forged nanocomposite aluminum alloys. The Euclid, Ohio-based company has been working with the U.S. Army and the National Science Foundation to develop micro-nanocomposite aluminum alloys that offer 30 to 50 percent higher ductility than today's state-of-the-art, high-strength aluminum alloys, such as aluminum lithium.

The company says its powder metallurgy process -- from which it gets its name -- allows the retention of nanocrystallites and ductile reinforcing phases throughout the powder forging (or "extrusion") process, creating high strength aluminum materials that it says require minimal machining.

The result: alloys with 50 to 72 ksi, or kips per square inch, and 16 percent ductility. (Contrast with 50 to 70 ksi and 12 percent ductility.) They're sold under the MComP name.

If that's all Greek to you, just know this: Powdermet says its metals are stronger and more easily manipulated than competing alloys -- a big deal for the transportation industry, for example, which consumed roughly 47 million tons of the stuff -- or $95.5 billion worth -- in 2010.

The market is only expected to increase -- to nearly 68 million tons, or approx. $125 billion -- by 2015 as new strict weight and fuel efficiency requirements for the automotive industry spark additional interest.

(The military, ever the leading edge, is also interested.)

As for the joint venture, Powdermet says it will work with truck builder Oshkosh, aluminum foundry Eck and UW to develop lighter, stronger aluminum and magnesium structural components that have the strength of steel without the weight -- and hopefully without a high price tag, too.

UW's research suggests that using nanoparticles can reinforce aluminum alloys without requiring the addition of costly rare earth metals. But nanoparticles are difficult to disperse homogeneously throughout a casting or billet; the organizations intend to solve that problem together.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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