Binghamton University researchers look to strengthen additively manufactured metals through oxidation

June 21, 2024

Professor Changhong Ke will test the ability of nanotube-strengthened Al components to self-strengthen through oxidation (Courtesy Jonathan Cohen)
Professor Changhong Ke will test the ability of nanotube-strengthened Al components to self-strengthen through oxidation (Courtesy Jonathan Cohen)

Professor Changhong Ke, a faculty member at the Thomas J Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Applied Engineering at Binghamton University, New York, USA, is currently leading research into making additively manufactured metals stronger through oxidation. This research will be supported by a $150,000 Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) from the National Science Foundation.

Because Additive Manufacturing can cause metal components to be more porous than traditionally manufactured metal, additively manufactured parts can be more vulnerable to failure in corrosive environments, explains Ke. In this research, he will build microscopic boron nitride nanotubes into additively manufactured aluminium in an effort to make the metal self-strengthening in corrosive conditions.

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“You can’t avoid oxidation, so we are trying to take advantage of it by turning it into a new, reinforcing mechanism to make the material stronger,” Ke said. “That would be something really amazing. People could try to design the materials to include these sorts of porosities or even purposely introducing structures that can be more easily oxidised because it becomes something beneficial instead of harmful to the material itself.”

The nanotubes will be a few nanometres thick and a few to hundreds of microns in length. Ke and his team will use a force sensor to remove single nanotubes from the oxidised metal to study the effect the oxidisation process has had on the tubes via scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

“We designed this as a sandwich structure,” he said. “It’s like a hot dog, with the nanotube as the meat and the metal as the bread.”

Ke’s team will also test this method on a macro scale, studying load transfer in an effort to learn more about how the oxidation process impacts the stiffness, strength and toughness of the nanotube-loaded metal. Any findings will be validated by collaborators using computational modelling at the University of Illinois.

“We’re hoping this will provide a new perspective to the scientific community about how we view metal oxidation in terms of future material design,” Ke added. “That could change the research landscape for these metal materials, particularly for 3D printed metal. It has so many promising applications in different areas, and it even could revitalise US manufacturing competitiveness.”

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