Nanoparticle study focuses on high-manganese steels

Researchers at the Kelvin Nanocharacterisation Centre at Glasgow University are playing a central role in a €1.9m (£1.6m) EU project to characterise the properties of steels with nanoparticle additives.

Car manufacturers and scientists believe that the nanoscale particles are key to developing high-manganese steels that will reduce the weight of vehicles and help meet stricter carbon dioxide emissions targets, without compromising on safety.

The role of the Glasgow researchers will be to analyse samples of high-manganese steel containing the nanoscale precipitates of niobium and vanadium carbides, which help strengthen the steel by creating points within its structure that make it more difficult to deform.

Dr Ian MacLaren, lecturer in physics and astronomy, said: ’Steel plays an important part in car manufacturing because it is strong and durable, and yet is ductile. This means that in a crash situation, the structure of the car can absorb the force of an impact by crumpling.

’In seeking to reduce the amount of steel used in vehicles, and thus the weight, it is very important to retain both strength and ductility, which is where the niobium or vanadium precipitates come in.’

It is hoped that by strengthening the steel in this way car manufacturers could cut down on the amount of steel used within individual parts without reducing the strength or durability of the finished product.

Dr MacLaren added: ’There are so many parameters to play with to ensure the right nanostructure and, thus, the best performance, so what we hope to achieve by the end of the project is to be able to provide the necessary data for future high-manganese steel alloy design.’

The team at Glasgow – which also includes Prof Alan Craven, Dr Damien McGrouther and a PhD student – will use equipment within the Kelvin Nanocharacterisation Centre, including transmission electron microscopes and a Focused Ion Beam system, to understand the structure and chemistry of such precipitates down to the one-nanometre scale or even below.

The four-and-a-half-year project, which is worth £180,000 to the university, is being conducted in the collaboration with the University of Oulu in Finland, KTH in Sweden, CEIT in Spain, RWTH Aachen in Germany and two steel producers, Thyssen Krupp Steel and Arcelor Mittal.