Big news from the metallurgy desk this week: It looks like steel is about to get a lot steelier.
According to a report published today in the prestigious journal Nature, researchers in South Korea have developed a new recipe for making a high-strength, low-density steel alloy that can outperform titanium in terms of strength and ductility.
In materials science, ductility is a measure of a substance’s ability to be stretched or bent without breaking. It’s a big deal in manufacturing — particularly auto manufacturing — because steel alloys designed to make the metal lighter usually result in a more brittle metal.
As a result, manufacturers looking to make lighter cars have turned to alternative materials. In statistics cited in the Nature report, the share by weight of steel and iron in an average light vehicle decreased from 68.1 percent in 1995 to 60.1 percent in 2011.
But the new steel alloy proposed by the South Korean team actually strengthens the steel in the same fabrication process that makes it lighter and more flexible. The specifics get pretty complicated, but the recipe essentially improves on existing steel-aluminum alloying processes.
As such, deployment of the new technique could be rapid and the breakthrough could have wide-reaching implications in manufacturing, construction and engineering.
“The balance of lightness, strength and ductility in metallic alloys has been explored since the Bronze Age,” the research team writes in the Nature report. “There is increasing demand for a broad range of structural materials for environmentally benign, energy-efficient, lightweight engineering systems.”