Both aluminum and magnesium are found in abundance on Earth, but only aluminum is really used to produce consumer electronics and other important products. That’s because aluminum-based alloys are cheap to produce and the metal offers high structural integrity and even improves fuel efficiency when used in planes.
Magnesium is even lighter than aluminum, which means it could become the metal of choice for certain products. But the problem with magnesium is that, by itself, the metal is pretty soft, though that might change in the future thanks to the work of scientists from UCLA who have developed a method to increase the strength of magnesium.
Improving the structural integrity of magnesium can apparently be done with the help of silicon carbide nanoparticles that would be dispersed in molten magnesium, Forbes reports. The problem with this approach is that the nanoparticles need to be dispersed uniformly to add strength to magnesium – and that’s precisely the problem the UCLA scientists solved.
By using a process called high-pressure torsion on molten magnesium-zinc alloy, the researchers managed to obtain a sturdy material that’s 86% magnesium and 14% silicon carbide.
“An enhancement of strength, stiffness, plasticity and high-temperature stability is simultaneously achieved, delivering a higher specific yield strength and higher specific modulus than almost all structural metals,” the researchers wrote.
“It’s been proposed that nanoparticles could really enhance the strength of metals without damaging their plasticity, especially light metals like magnesium, but no groups have been able to disperse ceramic nanoparticles in molten metals until now,” principal researcher Xiaochun Li said.
“With an infusion of physics and materials processing, our method paves a new way to enhance the performance of many different kinds of metals by evenly infusing dense nanoparticles to enhance the performance of metals to meet energy and sustainability challenges in today’s society,” he added.
“The results we obtained so far are just scratching the surface of the hidden treasure for a new class of metals with revolutionary properties and functionalities,” Li said.
The researchers revealed that scaling the process up would not cause environmental damage. It’s too early to tell whether gadgets of the future will be made primarily of magnesium, but the technology is definitely exciting.