A new award-winning alloy can improve the energy efficiency of powertrains, the motors that make things like cars, boats and other machinery “go.” Scientists developed powertrain parts made from a new type of aluminum-based alloy that performs well in harsh conditions and is lighter weight for gains in energy efficiency.
The alloy was developed under a project led by Ames National Laboratory, and included partners Idaho National Laboratory, Loukus Technologies, Inc., and Intelligent Composites LLC. The project focused on developing new aluminum alloys and composites that push performance boundaries in the harsh conditions—high temperature, corrosion, and stress-- that these engine systems often operate. The alloy is an aluminum-cerium mixture with three other metals added to make it easy to form into complex shapes that are needed for use in engines.
Ryan Ott, a scientist from Ames Lab and leader of the research team, explained that cylinder liners in aluminum engines need to be able to survive repeated stress and wear at high temperatures. Cast-iron liners are often used because they meet these requirements and are inexpensive to produce compared to other materials. However, cast iron has a much higher density than aluminum, which adds significant weight to the engine, and decreases energy efficiency.
According to Ott, using this new Al-Ce alloy in place of cast iron offers several advantages. The material is adaptable to traditional casting and forging, as well as to additive manufacturing. This versatility means that it can be used to create parts with current and future manufacturing methods. It has very good thermal stability, which means it retains more strength at elevated temperatures compared to common commercial Al alloys. Finally, cerium is an abundant byproduct of domestic rare-earth mining, making it an economical choice for the alloy.
The team used advanced modeling and lab-scale manufacturing to test the alloy prior to scaling-up by the industry partners. Recently, the partnership created cylinder liners that are now being tested in commercial powertrains.
The new alloy was recently recognized by a 2023 TechConnect Innovation Award. It is presented at the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo to the top 15% of submitted technologies from across the world, as ranked by a committee of corporate and investment partners. The rankings are based on the potential impact of the technology on a specific industry.
Transferring technology from the lab to potential commercial use is an important accomplishment for the scientists and partners involved. Ott said, “The most exciting part of this project is integrating the research team with the industrial partners to translate fundamental science into an actual component that is representative of the final commercial product.”
“We have been working with Ames Lab with the goal of commercializing this alloy system into demanding engine components for powersports, drones, and trucking,” said David Weiss, CEO of Intelligent Composites. “This has culminated in the production of cylinder liners via squeeze casting that are currently under test by three companies looking to increase power without attendant environmental impacts or to retain performance with significantly lower emissions. The testing data will point us to new applications, particularly in hybrid vehicle systems. We appreciate the support of the DOE National Laboratory System of this work.”
This Al-Ce alloy work is the most recent in a number of successful technology research and development partnerships involving Ames National Laboratory. The initial development of Al-Ce alloys though the Critical Materials Institute led by Ames National Laboratory won an R&D 100 award in 2017, and was licensed to Eck Industries in 2019.
This research was supported by the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO) of the U.S. Department of Energy. The work was part of the project, “Manufacturing of Al-Ce/Metal-Matrix-Composites (MMC) for Harsh Environments,” led by Ames National Laboratory.
Ames National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science National Laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies, and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities, and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.
Ames Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit https://energy.gov/science.