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High-performance aluminum-cerium alloy

By Scott Jenkins |

A newly developed aluminum-cerium alloy is exceptionally stable at high temperatures, and is highly corrosion-resistant, allowing its use in components for advanced engines and for other aerospace, automotive and power-generation applications.

Co-developed by Eck Industries (Manitowoc, Wis.; www.eckindustries.com) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; www.ornl.gov), with funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI; Ames, Iowa; cmi.ameslab.gov), the castable Al-Ce alloy is being used to make cylinder heads and pistons for advanced gas and diesel engines, as well as turbocharger components and aircraft engine parts.

The addition of cerium to molten aluminum leads to the formation of Al11Ce3 intermetallics that are stable at over 1,000°C which renders the alloy stable at temperatures up to 500°C. Typically, Ce levels of 8–12% are used to develop sufficient high-temperature strengthening.

“The alloy’s ability to recover from damage at high thermal loads over time means it can extend the performance range of aluminum alloys beyond where it currently stands,” explains David Weiss, vice president of engineering and R&D at Eck Industries. The aluminum-oxides and cerium-oxides that form on the alloy’s surface make it highly corrosion-resistant. The alloy’s favorable corrosion properties have fostered its use for corrosion-resistant rotor blades in power generation. Generally, most formulations of the alloy do not require heat-treatment to develop mechanical properties, which reduces the total energy input requirements for the alloy, Weiss says.

The inclusion of the rare-earth metal cerium is attractive to the CMI because it helps drive down the cost for less common and more valuable rare-earth elements, such as neodymium and dysprosium. Most rare earth deposits contain about 50% cerium. Using the cerium for high-performance alloys makes rare earth deposits more economically viable to mine, Weiss says.

While the alloy was originally developed as a casting alloy, it is also being studied for use in forging and extrusion processes, as well as for additive manufacturing applications, Weiss notes.

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