Researchers at the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory have developed an aluminium alloy they say could significantly improve jet aircraft design and reduce costs
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have developed an aluminium alloy they say could significantly improve jet aircraft design and reduce production costs.
The team plans to produce about 180kg of the new aluminium-yttrium-nickel alloy in the coming months. The alloy is produced using high-pressure gas atomisation, which blasts a stream of molten alloy material through a nozzle using pressurized helium or nitrogen. The result is highly uniform powder-fine metal particles that, because they cool so quickly, exhibit the amorphous structure of the liquid metal rather than the crystal structure of bulk metals.
The powdered metal is vacuum hot-pressed and hot extruded, a process that bonds the particles together while retaining some of the amorphous structure. The partially amorphous, partially crystallized structure reportedly gives the material improved properties, such as strength and ductility. Preliminary tests show that the alloy has a 30 per cent higher tensile strength than commercial aircraft-grade aluminium, according to the researchers.
The material, developed in conjunction with aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, is destined for use in the F-35 joint strike fighter, which will be used as the primary fighter for the US Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
Larry Jones, director of the Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center, says replacing components in one particular jet engine with the Al-Y-Ni alloy is predicted to lighten the engine by up to 160 kg.
’It means being able to carry significantly more fuel or payload,’ said Jones. ’It could also mean lower production costs.’