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Scientists invent 'super steel'

11 February, 2015

Researchers have invented a new steel alloy which has the same strength-to-weight ratio as titanium and is 10 times cheaper.

The super material could be used in automobile manufacturing, as well as to construct jet engines, missiles, and spacecraft.

To develop the metal, scientists from Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea overcame an age-old problem that had been stumping engineers.

Breaking rather than bending

"In the 1970s, Soviet researchers discovered that adding aluminium to the mix when creating steel can make an incredibly strong and lightweight metal, but this new steel was unavoidably brittle," said materials expert William Herkewitz.

"You'd have to exert lots of force to reach the limit of its strength, but once you did, the steel would break rather than bend."

Although steel on its own is renowned for its strength and cost, it's also extremely heavy.

There is a growing demand for lightweight structural materials as an alternative to conventional steels which are heavy and impractical in developing future energy efficient vehicles.

Studies on lightweight steels have shed light on the effectiveness of aluminum alloying in increasing the strength-to-weight ratio and reducing density.

Dispersing nanometre-sized compounds within steel grains

The Korean research team found a solution to this problem by taking an unconventional alloy design approach, by uniformly dispersing nanometre-sized B2 intermetallic compounds between and within the steel's grains.

Besides being lightweight, this new steel possesses an excellent combination of strength and ductility, which are far superior to those of traditional steels.

With this innovative approach, stronger and more ductile lightweight steels have been created, solving the long standing problem of poor ductility caused by the formation of brittle intermetallic compound particles.

The team plans to produce its new product later this year, ushering in a new era of high-specific-strength steels that will be lightweight and strong enough to produce fuel efficient vehicles and other transportation systems.

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