South Korea-based scientist Dr. Hansoo Kim and his associates at the Pohang University of Science and Technology have created a new alloy by reconfiguring steel by a few nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Though the manipulation occurs on the smallest of scales, it creates an alloy that is as durable and light as titanium alloys but more economical.
Steel is continuously on the decline; now that President Obama has mandated that car fuel economies double by 2025, the US automotive industry has been working with big-name aluminum companies like Novelis and Alcoa to manufacture car parts. The aerospace industry is also experiencing the same push towards aluminum, since steel — although inexpensive and sturdy — remains a heavier metal. The percentage of steel made parts in cars has dropped from 68.1 percent in 1995 to 60.1 percent in 2011. Now that Ford is working on its new generation of all-aluminum F-150s, you can imagine that those numbers have dropped even further.
Dr. Kim took it upon himself to create a new alloy that still uses steel, but also employs a few other lighter metals. The combination he discovered to be the best is iron, aluminum, carbon, steel, and nickel. Without nickel, Kim found the alloy too fragile; however, adding the nickel allows for a reaction to occur between the nickel and aluminum to make new nanometers that bind more efficiently with the steel. The crystals that the nickel create prevent the alloy from fracturing.
The new alloy uses a combination of relatively cheap materials, which means it can still be cheap to purchase on an industrial scale. Fueled by global innovations, it’s only a question of how long before light metals like aluminum, magnesium, and now titanium will start dominating as the material of choice for automobile production.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
February 8, 2015
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