Metals touch us each day. In the bicycles, cars, or trucks we ride or drive to work; in the wires that transfer electricity from the grid to our homes and devices; and in the biomedical devices that help us lead longer, healthier lives.
But not all metals are created equal. For example, steel, widely used in traditional automotive components, is heavy. Its weight has an impact on fuel economy and the environment through increased carbon emissions. Lighter-weight materials, such as alloys of aluminum or magnesium, are showing up in the transportation industry as exceptional materials for replacing heavy steel components, providing lighter-weight vehicles that are more fuel efficient.
Paving the way for revolutionary materials
Now, PNNL—with a rich, successful history of materials research and development—is delving deeper into the world of materials manufacturing. Solid Phase Processing, or SPP, is an emerging approach for producing a wide range of metal and multi-material products. It holds the potential to decrease the energy intensity of manufacturing and deliver higher-performing components, all at a lower cost.
SPP is a high-strain process applied to materials during fabrication to produce high-performance alloys, semi-finished products, and engineered assemblies without the requirement to melt the constitutive materials. This emerging manufacturing platform delivers extraordinary performance in metal alloys, relative to identical materials produced by conventional manufacturing routes.
Early-stage research at PNNL, in collaboration with several university partners, has shown that SPP methods can reduce, or even eliminate, many of the high-energy steps required in conventional metals production, such as melting, forging, and rolling. The result is a significant decrease in the energy intensity of alloy and component manufacture.
Full realization of SPP’s potential for manufacturing new materials and components will require collaborations across the national labs, industry, and academia. The vision: delivering—to partners such as the automotive, aerospace, and energy industries—new materials and products that exhibit extraordinary performance at low cost.
Unique processes, solutions for industry
The foundation is set. PNNL’s new technologies and processes for lightweight metals manufacturing use cheaper, highly efficient, and scalable manufacturing approaches that deliver superior materials properties. For example:
- The Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion system—or ShAPE™—enables the manufacture of magnesium alloy parts that can replace components historically made of steel. It does so at significantly less cost, within a much smaller energy and physical footprint, and with unprecedented ductility and energy absorption.
- The friction stir dovetailing process allows heavy steel to be joined with thick sheets of aluminum. This provides the military with solutions for lighter combat vehicles to lower fuel expenses and increase agility and operational effectiveness.
These are just two examples of the PNNL-developed technologies that are making a difference in industry.
Delivering materials with superior performance versus traditional processing methods. Reduced energy requirements to produce better alloys and materials. Smaller physical footprint manufacturing processes, enabling increased operational efficiency. More product in less time, and with less effort. Agile manufacturing processes.
The future—it’s a material world.