Public-Private Partnership Aims to Improve Cast Aluminum

December 9, 2015

FCA US LLC, Auburn Hills, Mich., and Nemak, García, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, are combining effort with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create lightweight powertrain materials to help the automotive industry reach its target of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Based at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, Tenn., the project is part of a new initiative from DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office to develop an affordable, high-strength cast aluminum alloy.

“The aggressive goals of these projects compress about half a century of typical materials development into a four-year project,” said Jerry Gibbs, program manager, DOE.

This target means engineering a material that is 25% stronger than current alloys and more durable at higher temperatures. The researchers are using integrated computational materials engineering (ICME) to speed the development of new high-temperature aluminum alloys for automotive cylinder heads. ICME enables researchers to tailor new alloys at the atomic level to achieve desired properties such as strength and ease of manufacturability.

“Aluminum has been in mass scale production for more than a century, but current cast aluminum alloys cannot withstand the temperatures required by new advanced combustion regimes,” said Amit Shyam, principal investigator,  ORNL. “Our goal is to take high-temperature cast aluminum where it has never been.”

ORNL is breaking new ground by scaling ICME to run on DOE’s Titan supercomputer, the second fastest computer in the world. Using Titan’s speed and parallel processing power, ORNL researchers can predictively model new alloys and select only the best candidates for further experimentation. This predictive capability dramatically reduces the time, energy, and resources devoted to casting trial alloys.

The team is also verifying the computational models through atomic scale imaging and analytical chemistry measurements. ORNL’s scanning transmission electron microscopy and atom probe tomography allow researchers to identify and examine the location and chemistry of each atom in the alloy matrix, precipitates and the interfaces between them.

ORNL and collaborators are creating a database that captures their aluminum alloy materials discoveries to improve ICME capabilities and accelerate the development of new high-performance materials.  

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