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Stronger, better, lighter: recycled automotive alloys

A UK-Dutch research partnership is trying to develop ‘high-strength’ aluminium alloys produced from 100% recycled metals.

The Brunel Centre for Advanced Solidification Technology in the UK has established a special project aimed at boosting recycled aluminium content in the automotive sector. Specifically, researchers are investigating how to enhance the performance of recycled aluminium alloys in lightweight vehicles.

New generation of alloys

The UK specialists have joined forces with aluminium products manufacturer Constellium, based in the Netherlands. Together, the R&D crew hopes to find a way to create ‘a new generation’ of automotive grade alloys sourced entirely from recycled metals.

Aluminium alloys are known for their incredible low density, high strength, and high corrosion resistance, remarks Professor Zhongyun Fan, who leads the project. These benefits have seen aluminium’s popularity sky-rocket in the transport industry in recent years.

He estimates that over one billion tonnes of aluminium has been produced since the early 1900s. However, aluminium production consumes 3.5% of the world’s electricity supply, while producing 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Ultra strong

‘Even with the reduced weight offered by aluminium car components, a vehicle must be run for 10 000 miles before it becomes effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions’, Fan comments. ‘But if you use recycled aluminium, from day one you are reducing carbon dioxide emissions,’ the professor explains.

This is where the strategic partnership comes in. Fan says the Strain Enhanced Precipitation (STEP) project will develop alloys with ‘ultra-high strength’; meaning they are twice as strong as existing aluminium alloys. Also, the recycled alloys will have significantly improved ductility as well as high crashworthiness and high thermal conductivity.

Fan explains that his crew will use a combination of production techniques, including deformation, and a reduction in the crystal size of the alloys developed, to increase the overall strength of the metal.

Chill casting

The researchers are also developing a ‘new melt conditioned direct chill casting process’. This means liquid metal is ‘intensively sheared’ before solidification. According to Fan, this method will ensure that the aluminium feedstock will have a much higher quality. ‘It has much finer crystals, resulting in higher strength and making it easier to process later on,’ he adds.  

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