Scientists Develop the Most Wear-Resistant Metal Alloy in the World

Researchers at the famed Sandia National Laboratories have developed a platinum-gold alloy that withstands high amounts of heat and friction.

Perhaps it may be time for Superman's moniker to be modified from "Man of Steel" to "Man of Platinum-Gold Alloy".

Researchers at the New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories have developed an alloy of the two metals which offers superior resistance against wear, the most of its kind in the world. The alloy also offers a level of strength and durability that is 100 times more powerful than those of high-strength steel.

Changing grain boundary energies

The team was able to achieve thermal stability when combining the metals by developing a method which involved changing the grain boundary energies. The result is an alloy that is comparable to sapphire and diamond-like carbon (DLC) in terms of its constitution: the team observed significant stress on the microstructural surface of the metal after 100k sliding passes.

Scientists Develop the Most Wear-Resistant Metal Alloy in the World
Source: Advanced Materials

Nicolas Argibay, who was one of the authors on the paper, said of the thinking behind the project: “We showed there’s a fundamental change you can make to some alloys that will impart this tremendous increase in performance over a broad range of real, practical metals."

This resulted in a perfect hybrid of the two; a silver-white alloy that possesses the look of platinum and the weight of gold. 

The significance of the metal alloy is two-fold: 

*By focusing on the element of improving friction and heat-resistance instead of only strength, the team introduced a method that relied more on computational tools. 

*Under stress, the metal produces its own diamond-like carbon--which was accidentally discovered by the team--which serves as a lubrication. This also means that the metal presents additional time- and cost-saving benefits, as it requires none of the traditional methods for lubricant production.

Industry impact

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In looking at the future impact of this metal, Sandia-based engineer Chris Nordquist (who was not involved in the study) said

“These wear-resistant materials could potentially provide reliability benefits for a range of devices we have explored,” adding, “The opportunities for integration and improvement would be device-specific, but this material would provide another tool for addressing current reliability limitations of metal microelectronic components.”

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This development, beyond the scientific value it brings, will have a ripple effect in the industry as we are living in an era in which we are experiencing an all-out effort to develop production methods which cut down on cost, labor, and, most relevant to the research, resources.

The electronics industry, in particular, stands to benefit. A thin layer of gold plating is needed for everything from printed circuit boards to electrical contacts, and manufacturers are in a dilemma over whether to recycle resources or invest in methods for improving friction and wear resistance.

Amidst this very real debate, research initiatives like this are helping to shift the narrative to sustainability versus employing costly procedures for reclaiming old parts. In the end, considering the drain on global resources we are facing, extending the life of electronics is now in the interest of all involved. 

The study is published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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