A low-cost and improved titanium alloy is lightweight yet stronger than any commercial alloy currently available in the market. This material could be used to create lighter and energy-saving vehicles in the future.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have developed the new titanium alloy, which gets its remarkable strength from the way its atoms are arranged. The process has a lower cost, too.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers noted that the new material could be used in cars that are sturdier that conventional cars nowadays, but lighter. This could also lead to the production of light energy-saving cars that will not need a lot of fuel.

More Expensive Than Steel

"This alloy is still more expensive than steel, but with its strength-to-cost ratio, it becomes much more affordable with greater potential for lightweight automotive applications," said Vineet Joshi, a metallurgist at PNNL.

The team used a unique probe imaging approach and powerful electron microscopes to study the structure of the alloy. Once they determine the alloy's nanostructure, they manipulated it to create the strongest titanium alloy ever produced.

Heat Treatment Made It Stronger

The researchers thought of using an ancient practice to shape and make metal stronger - blacksmithing. This involves using heat to rearrange the elements at the atomic levels that will make the material stronger.

An electron microscope was used to see the alloy to about 1,000th the width of an average human hair. It was again zoomed to the atomic level and with the use of an atom probe tomography system, they rearranged the atoms individually.

They found that when the material is heat treated at a higher temperature first, then at lower temperature, the titanium alloy becomes 10 to 15 percent stronger than any other alloy available in the market. That's equivalent to about two times the strength of steel.

Blacksmithing is now considered a part of science than merely a form of art. The researchers knew that if this method is used, it could create a stronger metal that can have a wide range of uses.

Photo: Kirt Edblom | Flickr

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