ARCHIVED - Innovative alloys for autos

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September 02, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Scientists at the NRC Canadian Neutron Beam Centre have joined forces with metallurgy experts across Canada to bring a new material into the automotive market. The new magnesium R&D network, dubbed MagNet, could position Canada as a world leader in "wrought magnesium" technology.

"The need to make lighter cars that consume less fuel is driving R&D on new materials," says Dr. Michael Gharghouri, an NRC researcher who uses neutron diffraction to characterize materials. "That's why we're looking at magnesium. It's lighter than the metals we now use, and there's plenty of it. But we need to develop an alloy that will be as strong and corrosion-resistant as other metals, yet no more expensive."

Dr. Gharghouri and his NRC colleague, Dr. Dimitry Sediako, are members of MagNet, which will receive about $4.8 million over five years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). They are working with industry partners, other government labs and university researchers to develop magnesium materials that are strong and can be shaped at fairly low cost.

C2 Neutron Diffractometer
C2 Neutron Diffractometer

"Apart from aluminium, there aren't many structural metals that are well suited to the casting for car parts," remarks Dr. Gharghouri. "Many metals, such as titanium, are far too expensive." From about 1940 to 1960, magnesium was studied and used as a structural material in cars and gearbox casings, but R&D on magnesium alloys virtually stopped when aluminium came to the fore. It was far easier to strengthen and shape than magnesium.

"Given its brittleness, there are significant challenges in working with magnesium," notes Dr. Gharghouri. "To make a sheet for a car panel out of magnesium, you have to process it at a much higher temperature than you would aluminium. Cast magnesium alloys have been used for parts but if you need to process magnesium into wrought alloys, it doesn't fare as well." A wrought alloy starts with a cast material, which is then shaped into pipes, rods or sheets.

So why take a second look at magnesium? "Today there are new metal processing routes available," says Dr. Gharghouri. "We have twin-roll casting, new powder materials and new alloys. We can mix magnesium with aluminum, zinc, manganese or a bit of zirconium to make stronger alloys. And we haven't yet investigated all the ways to process magnesium thermomechanically to give it the required properties."

Drs. Gharghouri and Sediako will use neutron scattering to study magnesium alloys. "The neutron scattering will give us the hard numbers to predict what will happen when we roll or cast a metal," Dr. Sediako explains. "Using these numbers to create predictive models, we can shorten the research before going to production."

The work of MagNet is timely given that, by 2020, the North American automotive industry aims to increase its use of magnesium from about 5 kg to 160 kg per vehicle. Magnesium materials will not only reduce vehicle emissions for internal combustion engines, but could also pave the way to electric, fuel cell and hybrid powered vehicles.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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