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Intermetallic Materials Processing in Relation to Earth and Space Solidification

Final Report Summary - IMPRESS (Intermetallic Materials Processing in Relation to Earth and Space Solidification)

The IMPRESS project aimed to improve understanding of the critical links between the solidification processing of intermetallic alloys, the structure of the materials at the micro- and nanoscale, and their final mechanical, chemical and physical properties. Two alternative families of intermetallics were examined, namely titanium aluminides (TiAl) and nickel aluminides (NiAl), in gas turbine blades and catalytic devices' applications.

The project was elaborated by a multi-disciplinary team of experts in the fields of physical metallurgy, chemistry, metrology, fluid science, space experimentation, computer modelling, environmental engineering and industrial product development.

Firstly, the project focused on production of turbine blades by cost-effective investment casting, as opposed to the more costly forging approach. Numerous problems in casting were highlighted due to the reactivity of liquid TiAl at 1 700 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, the ductility of cast ?-TiAl components was intrinsically low, imposing the need for further alloy development. IMPRESS aimed to address these issues through experimental work and comprehensive modelling. The obtained data were essential for understanding, optimising and simulating the different blade production steps, such as melting, mould-filling, heat transfer, solidification and subsequent heat treatment processes. Moreover, investment casting was successfully realised using centrifugal casting, leading to a major improvement in the product quality and yield. Effective materials were also developed, along with an innovative, commercially viable recycling method for scrap material and out-of-service components. A 40-50 % weight reduction for low-pressure turbine stages was feasible as a result of the project findings.

In addition, sponge nickel catalysts were optimised during IMPRESS, which undertook development, production and characterisation of over 600 NiAl gas-atomised samples. The importance of the gas atomised powder microstructure was significant; therefore the powder was tailored to improve catalytic performance. In addition, a selection map was created linking process, structure and final catalytic properties. A unique database of phase diagrams and thermophysical characteristics was also produced, based on the outcomes of experimental tests. In addition, very promising results were obtained during the evaluation of sponge nickel catalysts in alkaline fuel cells, offering the opportunity to commercialise the technology at an affordable and reliable level.

IMPRESS was highly successful and set a benchmark in the sector. Significant progress in the field of lightweight and energy-saving materials was attained; it was therefore anticipated that, after industrialisation of the prototypes, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced and the social benefits of the technology would be apparent. Moreover, the acquired knowledge would have a lasting impact on solidification processing and physical metallurgy. Prototypes' development and testing was planned to continue after the project completion by the industrial manufacturers and end-users, supported by market-oriented funding schemes. Finally, the project led to the creation of a research and development (R&D) centre for creative metals at the European Space Agency (ESA).

IMPRESS findings were disseminated via numerous actions, such as documents' publications, lectures and permanent museum exhibitions. In addition, a project website was designed and patent applications were registered to ensure the research exploitation potential.

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