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Hypergravity helps in development of light, aircraft-grade alloy

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November 5, 2012

Titanium aluminide, created using hypergravity, would reduce the weight of jet trbine blad...

Titanium aluminide, created using hypergravity, would reduce the weight of jet trbine blades by over 45 percent (Photo: A. Rueda via Flickr)

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In the quest for more efficient commercial aircraft to help reduce fuel consumption, weight reduction without compromising safety is one of the most obvious areas of focus. Researchers at the European Space Agency (ESA) working in the Intermetallic Materials Processing in Relation to Earth and Space Solidification (IMPRESS) Project have used hypergravity to help develop an aircraft-grade alloy they claim is twice as light as the nickel superalloys currently used in conventional jet engines, but boasts equally good properties.

According to the ESA, reducing the weight of an aircraft by one percent will generally result in a 1.5 percent reduction in fuel usage. This might not sound like much, but quickly adds up to significant financial savings for commercial airlines and benefits for the environment.

Titanium aluminide alloys, which are lighter than nickel superalloys and can withstand temperatures of up to 800° C (1,472° F), have long been of interest to aircraft engine manufacturers. However, the difficulties faced in casting the material into shapes such as turbine blades has made it unsuitable for use in engines. Until now.

To gain a greater understanding of the natural processes that take place during casting, the ESA scientists heated aluminum samples to over 700° (1,292° F) in a small furnace carried on a sounding rocket and monitored the samples using X-rays as they were cooled during a six-minute free fall. The removal of external variables, such as gravity, is a common practice by scientists making observations so they can concentrate on the core interactions.

However, when the scientists looked at the results from the free fall observations, they thought they might have better luck opting for an opposite approach – hypergravity. To test their theory, the IMPRESS team turned to the ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge in the ESTEC research and technology center in the Netherlands.

The Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre...

They found that casting the metals in the centrifuge at up to 20 times normal gravity produces a perfectly cast alloy in even complex shapes. This is because the additional gravitational force helps the liquid metals fill every part of the mold. They say the experiments provided the foundation to allow them to refine and commercialize the industrial process used to manufacture the alloy.

The researchers say using titanium aluminide would reduce the weight of the more than one million jet turbine blades that are expected to be produced in the next eight years by over 45 percent. They add that the alloy is also of interest to the automotive industry, which could use it to create lighter car components.

Source: ESA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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7 Comments

This is significant indeed. Based on some basic calculations I estimate that the f22 Raptor would be able to travel some 53.28km further using the full ferry weight of 2 external tanks.

But this with the engine modified presuming many things, obviously other weight loss could be achieved in other areas as well. I think what they will end up with here is increasing the cost of production, anyone else get that feeling. It looks complicated.

Loaded weight 29,300 kg F22 Raptor.

Dry Weight 1,770 kg PW F119

(29300-1770) (0.55(1770)=

27530 973.5= 28503.5

29300/100 * 28503.5/x percentage difference. find x.

100% - 97.28% =2.72% Given that the decrease in weight amounts to a ratio increase in performance of 1.5% for every 1% increase calculate the fuel performance increase with a 2.72% reduction in aircraft weight given that the range with 2 external fuel tanks is 2,960 km.

if 1.5% = 1% 2.72% = x Therefor x = 1.81% fuel effiecency increase.

So how much further will you go when you boost the efficiency to 101.8% given that at 100% you can go 2960 km.

Ans = 3013.28km

Spriscilla the Queen of the Ocean
5th November, 2012 @ 07:49 pm PST

OMG (not). they've re-invented the 5000yr old concept of spin-casting. big woop. eg: http://www.meevis.com/jewelry-making-class-basic-spin-casting.htm

David Buzz
5th November, 2012 @ 08:44 pm PST

If by re-inventing you mean researching a method to create super alloys, then I agree... OMG. Spin casting decorative silver isn't the same as the work metallurgical engineers specialize in.

Oh, and the F-22 wasn't designed for economy, so you can't use it to discredit the efficiency benefits to commercial cargo aircraft. Those vehicles have a much different design, one oriented to LIFT capacity, rather than supersonic cruising or low observability.

Ali Kim
6th November, 2012 @ 08:16 am PST

Have to agree with David, this is just up-scaled spin casting. It's great that someone thought to apply this old fabrication method to new materials. But this isn't a new idea, just rediscovered.

Siegfried Gust
6th November, 2012 @ 10:21 am PST

Ali I don't believe Spriscilla was trying to discredit the significance, quite the opposite. Fifty miles further in a jet fighter makes a world of difference when every second can mean life and death and this gives you in most cases at least 30 more seconds. Then tag on the benefits of stronger materials at temperature (lower combat failure, lower maintenance costs due to longer use and the ability to run hotter or faster if need be ) and you have a steep strategic advantage.

Matt Fletcher
6th November, 2012 @ 11:31 am PST

if you take into account the fact that those turbine blades are subjected to extreme temperatures and forces, then lightening them could have a significant impact on the performance of the engine.

For starters less turbine rotating mass will mean it accelerates and decelerates more easily. Less stress on the blades due to their reduced weight would mean less creep deformation, longer turbine blade life etc.

Adrien
6th November, 2012 @ 01:54 pm PST

If this casting technique works with any alloy, and it can be used with cryogenic tempering, light weighting would take a big leap forward.

I would like to see this used in cars.

It would not be needed in spacecraft, at first, if no planets were landed on, only mining of asteroids/moon. Escaping earth's gravity would be no problem after the space elevator is built.

Don Duncan
27th June, 2013 @ 05:54 pm PDT
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