Quantum mechanics could lead to stronger, more sustainable alloys
It may be an abstract concept for many people, but a new study shows that quantum mechanics can play a role in reducing the carbon footprint for producing steel and other alloys while making materials stronger and lighter.
Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology recently reported a new method for producing alloys that, at the atomic level, highlight the mechanisms that lead to stronger, tougher and more malleable materials. Thus, over time, the researchers hope to be able to produce hard metals and steels where carcinogenic cobalt is replaced with environmentally friendly alternatives.
Their findings were reported in the journal, Nexus, a publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).
Levente Vitos, professor at the Division of Materials Science at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, says the research makes it possible to create new kinds of structural materials, such as corrosion-resistant austentic stainless steel with improved mechanical properties.
In research and development of stronger, lighter more malleable alloys, it hasn’t always been easy to determine what exactly accounts for such advantageous properties, Vitos says. That’s because development doesn’t consider the underlying atomic or molecular processes in producing alloys.
“Sometimes, excellent properties can be obtained, mainly by accident. But alloys with similar design parameters have often performed very differently, leading to confusion and raising questions about the design approaches,” he says.
Instead the researchers at KTH have applied a quantum theory-based design method to new steel alloys, in which the hardening mechanism becomes visible at the atomic level.
Co-author Song Lu says the new research make it possible to identify the best combinations of alloys for customizing and optimizing new kinds of structural materials.
And, he says, that’s good news for the environment.
"Improved mechanical properties of structural materials enable reduced weight and need for raw materials and can thus contribute to the energy saving goals that are needed for a more sustainable society," Lu says.
Peter Ardell/David Callahan