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UK Research Consortium Awarded £5.7M Grant to Develop New Lightweight Materials for Cars and Aircraft

A UK-based consortium, led by scientists at the University of Manchester, has been awarded a £ 5.7 million (US$8.9 million) grant to help develop new super-light materials solutions for building more fuel-efficient cars and aircraft. The LATEST2 (Light Alloys Towards Environmentally Sustainable Transport 2nd Generation) Project is being funded by a program grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The five and a half year collaborative project aims to help deliver dramatic reductions in the environmental impact of transport by finding ways of improving the design of high performance light alloys in the transport sector.

Applications for light alloys within the transport sector are projected to double in the next decade as manufacturers strive to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Polymer composites are too expensive for body structures in large volume vehicle production and difficult to recycle. However, the properties and cost of current light alloy materials, and the associated manufacturing processes, are already inhibiting progress, according to the LATEST2 team.

To achieve further weight reductions, a second generation of higher performance light alloy design solutions are required that perform reliably in service, are recyclable, and have more complex product forms—produced with lower cost, energy efficient, manufacturing processes. With design optimization, and by combining the best attributes of advanced high strength Al and Mg alloys with composites, laminates, and cheaper steel products, it will be possible to produce step change in performance with cost-effective, highly mass efficient, multi-material structures, according to the team.

Such a roadmap presents many challenges to the materials community, with research urgently required address the science necessary to solve the following critical issues:

  • How to make more complex shapes in higher performance lower formability materials, while achieving the required internal microstructure, texture, surface finish and, hence, service and cosmetic properties, and with lower energy requirements?

  • How to join different materials, such as aluminium and magnesium, with composites, laminates, and steel to produce hybrid materials and more mass efficient cost-effective designs?

  • How to protect such multi-material structures, and their interfaces against corrosion and environmental degradation?

Examples of the challenges associated with the project include:

  • Capturing the influence of a materials deformation mechanisms, microstructure and texture on formability, thus allowing computer models to be used to rapidly optimize forming for difficult alloys in terms of component shape and energy requirements;

  • Predicting and controlling detrimental interfacial reactions in dissimilar joints;

  • Take advantage of innovative ideas, such as using lasers to draw on more formable microstructures in panels, where it is needed;

  • Using smart self healing coating technologies to protect new alloys and dissimilar joints in service; and

  • Mitigating against the impact of contamination from recycling on growth of oxide barrier coating, etc.

Project partners are AIRBUS UK; Alcan Engineered Products; Alcoa Europe Flat Rolled Products; Bridgnorth Aluminium Ltd; CSIRO; FEI Company Tools for Nanotechnology; GKSS Research Centre; Innoval Technology Ltd; Jaguar and Land Rover; Keronite International Ltd; Magnesium Elektron Ltd; Meridian Business Development UK; NAMTEC; Norton Aluminium Ltd; Novelis Global Technology Centre; Rolls-Royce plc; and TWI Limited.

A team of eight multi-disciplinary academics, led by George Thompson, Professor of Corrosion Science and Engineering in the School of Materials at Manchester, will investigate techniques for forming complex component architectures, joining advanced alloys and dissimilar materials, and engineering surfaces for low environmental impact, while ensuring low cost and recyclability.

Another area they will investigate is the use of coatings with self-healing properties to protect critical materials used in new design solutions. Researchers will also exploit innovative approaches to process modelling and simulation in order to accelerate the use of new techniques and technology in industry.

This important grant provides us with secure funding over several years to develop the scientific understanding to meet the challenge of building lighter vehicles and aircraft with lower carbon emissions and better fuel economy.

—George Thompson

EPSRC programme grants are a flexible mechanism to provide funding to world-leading research groups to address major research challenges. They are intended to support a suite of related research activities focusing on one strategic research challenge.

The work will build on the success of the original LATEST Portfolio Partnership. An official project launch event will be held at the University of Manchester in June 2010.


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