researchers in lab for a public-private project

ORNL–Eck Industries partnership fast-tracks high-performance alloys to market

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Heat resistant. Corrosion resistant. Castable. Lighter. Stronger. Stiffer. More flexible. When the properties and functionality of high-performance aluminum alloys are increased, so too is their market demand.

For competitors, gaining the upper hand could ultimately be determined by how well they understand their manufacturing materials at the atomic scale and how quickly they can incorporate research and development insights into new production designs.

By partnering with the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Eck Industries Inc. is doing just that—developing aluminum alloys and bringing them quickly to market. The partnership, through DOE’s Critical Materials Institute, has already led to the co-development and exclusive licensing of a cerium-aluminum alloy that won an R&D 100 Award and a 2018 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award. Now, the aluminum casting company is looking to unlock even more functionality from the alloy through rigorous testing using neutrons at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source (SNS).

“The basic aluminum-cerium system has many possible variations depending on what other alloying elements you add to the material, so we’re using neutrons to study what the effects of those elements are going to be on the material’s mechanical properties,” said David Weiss, vice president of engineering and research and development at Eck Industries. “If we can understand the mechanical behavior of the material better, we’ll be able to design better alloys.”

Iterations of the “superalloy” are already in production, says Weiss, from high-performance racing pistons and cylinder heads for diesel engines to turbine blades for hydroelectric power applications.

For more information about the alloy and research at ORNL's SNS, see the complete story: