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IMPRESS — Result In Brief

Project ID: 500635
Funded under: FP6-NMP
Country: France

Upping the stakes for intermetallic materials

Composite materials (those composed of two or more materials) are used frequently in engineering to build on various characteristics of the individual materials. Intermetallic alloys are composites in which two or more elements are metals.
Upping the stakes for intermetallic materials
Unlike conventional alloys, they have a crystal structure with little mobility of individual atoms, resulting in enhanced hardness and higher melting temperatures. However, they are often brittle and fracture easily. Thus, their applicability requires intensive characterisation and optimisation of processes and compositions to achieve final desired properties.

The ‘Intermetallic materials processing in relation to earth and space solidification’ (Impress) project set out to understand the inter-relationships among materials processing, micro- and nanoscale structure and final properties of novel higher-performance intermetallic alloys.

In particular, the investigators chose to examine two families of intermetallic alloys, titanium aluminides (TiAl) and nickel aluminides (NiAl). The researchers focused on application to large turbine blades and advanced catalytic devices such as hydrogen fuel cell electrodes, respectively, two areas where the EU is lagging.

The researchers successfully implemented investment casting of TiAl components, resulting in cost savings compared to conventional forging methods as well as enhanced product quality and yield. In fact, they produced low-pressure turbine stages demonstrating a 40–50 % weight reduction. Furthermore, they developed a commercially viable recycling method for scrap materials and out-of-service components.

The investigators also produced and characterised over 600 NiAl gas-atomised samples. They identified the microstructure of the gas-atomised powder as being particularly important to catalytic performance and thus optimised the powder structure. In addition, they created a selection map linking process, structure and properties as well as a database of phase diagrams for the materials based on experimental characterisations. Finally, they evaluated sponge nickel catalysts in alkaline fuel cells with promising results for potential commercialisation.

In summary, the Impress project resulted in significant advances for light-weight energy-saving intermetallic alloys that should translate to increased EU competitiveness. Implementation of results should have impact on solidification processes and physical metallurgy as well as on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Finally, the project led to establishment of a research and development (R&D) centre for creative metals at the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as patent applications and a permanent museum exhibition.

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