Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a substance far stronger and harder than conventional iron, and which retains its properties under extremely high temperatures.
They say that the new material could be used in a variety of applications such as engine components that are exposed to high stress and high temperatures.
Iron that is made up of nanoscale crystals is far stronger and harder than its traditional counterpart, but the benefits of this 'nano-iron' have been limited by the fact that its nanocrystalline structure breaks down at relatively modest temperatures.
But the NC State researchers have developed an iron-zirconium alloy that retains its nanocrystalline structures at temperatures above 1,300 degrees Celsius - approaching the melting point of iron.
Kris Darling, a PhD student at NC State who led the project to develop the material, said that the material could be made inexpensively in bulk.
In addition, Darling said that the ability to work the material at high temperatures will make it easier to form the alloy into useful shapes - for use as tools or engine parts.
Dr. Carl C. Koch, an NC State prof essor of materials science engineering who worked on the project, explained that the alloy essentially consisted of one per cent zirconium and 99 per cent iron. He said that it was the zirconium that allowed the alloy to retain its nanocrystalline structure under high temperatures.