Eck Industries licenses cerium-aluminum alloy that resists corrosion and high heat

June 13, 2017
Source: ASM International

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn., announces that Eck Industries, Manitowoc, Wis., has signed an exclusive license for the commercialization of a cerium-aluminum (Ce-Al) alloy that is easy to work with, lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and exceptionally stable at high temperatures. These properties make it ideal for automotive, aerospace, power generation, and other applications. The alloy was co-developed by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The patent-pending alloy was developed as part of DOE's Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and makes use of cerium, the most abundant rare earth element. Cerium makes up as much as half of mined rare earths, yet has less value than co-mined elements such as neodymium and dysprosium that are in high demand for advanced energy technology applications. Creating new uses for cerium supports both domestic rare earth mining operations and the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Scientists at ORNL, working with Eck Industries and researchers at DOE's Ames and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, developed the Ce-Al alloy. Testing has shown the Ce-Al alloy is stable at 500°C (932°F). Withstanding higher temperatures means, for instance, that engines made of the alloy can run hotter with more complete fuel combustion while being lighter in weight, which advances fuel efficiency.

Ce-Al does not require additional thermal processing during the casting process, and takes advantage of abundant, low-cost cerium, says ORNL scientist Orlando Rios. Parts can be cast  by standard aluminum foundry practices and without a protective atmosphere.

"The alloy is thermodynamically stable," Dr. Rios says. The cost of heat treatment and the additional machining required due to thermal distortion can make up some 50 to 60% of the cost of casting traditional alloys. Energy costs could potentially be reduced by 30 to 60% compared with traditional casting processes, he noted. The Ce-Al alloy's potential marks a significant departure from post-casting heat treatment and age-hardening approaches developed over some 100 years, and can significantly advance manufacturing competitiveness as result.

"There has been tremendous interest from industry due to the unique material properties and low cost of this alloy," says ASM member David Weiss, vice president of Engineering/R&D at Eck. "This project is a template for rapid development and commercialization. Not only did we bridge the research ‘valley of death,' but also we developed a highway for communication from our customers to us to help guide the project."

The involvement of multiple national laboratories and industry via CMI's interest in leveraging scientific knowledge to help solve critical materials issues was essential to fast development of the alloy. ORNL researchers led the development team while focusing on casting and microstructure property stability. Ames ran experiments on thermo-mechanical processing and examined the thermo-physical properties of the Ce-Al alloy. Lawrence Livermore performed characterization work using advanced microscopy and other methods. Eck was involved in pilot-scale experiments and provided manufacturing insight and expertise.

CMI's strategy is to bring together industrial, academic, and national lab expertise to address US reliance on critical materials like rare earth elements that are essential to energy, defense, and other manufacturing sectors.

"It's tough for a mine to survive if half of its output has no market. This alloy creates a use for the cerium that accompanies scarce and critical rare earths like neodymium and dysprosium," says CMI Director Alex King.


Subject Classifications

Industries and Applications | Aerospace and Defense

Industries and Applications | Automobiles and Ground Transportation

Materials Processing and Treatment | Casting

Metals and Alloys | Aluminum