CEMAS partners with NASA to develop revolutionary alloy

Posted: April 27, 2023
person sitting in front of two computer screens
MSE postdoc Milan Heczko at CEMAS performing characterization of GRX-810

Researchers at the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) collaborated with NASA Glenn Research Center to develop a new 3D printable alloy that can result in stronger, more durable parts for airplanes and spacecraft.

The revolutionary work introduces a 3D printable alloy, called GRX-810, that can withstand harsher conditions and higher temperatures than previous alloys. The breakthrough is detailed in the journal Nature.

GRX-810 is a multi-principal element alloy, meaning that multiple elements (nickel, chromium and cobalt) have been combined in similar amount to form the “base” of the alloy. In addition, it is also an oxide-dispersion strengthened alloy, meaning small particles only a few nanometers in size and containing oxygen and yttrium atoms are spread throughout the alloy to enhance its strength. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, was used as a new, cost-effective technique to incorporate the dispersion of yttria-oxygen particles throughout the volume of the alloy. Current state-of-art 3D-printed alloys can withstand temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but GRX-810 is twice as strong, twice as resistant to oxidation and over 1,000 times more durable at that temperature.

“This superalloy has the potential to dramatically improve the strength and toughness of components and parts used in aviation and space exploration,” said Tim Smith, PhD, of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, lead author of the Nature publication.

Smith and Christopher Kantzos of Glenn Research Center invented GRX-810. Smith received his PhD in materials science and engineering from The Ohio State University and conducted graduate research at CEMAS.

Michael Mills, PhD, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at Ohio State, and Milan Heczko, PhD, MSE postdoctoral scholar and CEMAS researcher, co-authored the publication. Mills is an internationally renowned researcher in high-temperature alloys.

microscopy of superalloy
Colored BF–STEM diffraction contrast image (DCI) (electron beam is parallel with [001] zone axis of matrix) reveals complex initial microstructure of GRX-810 alloy. Various defects are interacting with the oxide particles (blue). Network of 1/2<110> dislocations (yellow) which are mostly dissociated into observable intrinsic stacking faults bound by 1/6<112> Shockley partials. Dissociated dislocations (red) mutually interact and form numerous extended stacking-fault node configurations (red) and stacking-fault tetrahedra (green).

“This was a wonderful opportunity to be part of such a great collaboration with NASA,” said Heczko. “This outcome can fundamentally change how materials are designed. This is the type of achievement you strive for when you pursue a STEM career, and when you become a scientist. To be able to develop critical knowledge with the potential to significantly affect not only the whole professional field, but also the whole society, it is an awesome feeling.”

The microstructural origins and critical material design aspects of this new alloy were identified with the state-of-the-art instrumentation at CEMAS. The experimental data was collected using a probe aberration-corrected and monochromated scanning transmission electron microscope, Thermo Fisher Scientific Themis-Z.

The new alloy was made with computer modeling and a laser powder bed fusion 3D-printing process that fused the metals together layer by layer. This manufacturing process is more efficient and cost-effective than traditional manufacturing methods. The breakthrough highlights how future alloy development can use computer modeling with 3D printing to accelerate the discovery of revolutionary materials.

GRX-810 can be used to build aerospace parts for high-temperature environments, like those inside aircraft and rocket engines, because of its ability to withstand harsher conditions before reaching its breaking point. GRX-810’s higher temperature resistance and increased durability can also translate into reduced fuel burn and lower operating and maintenance costs.

CEMAS and NASA Glenn Research Center are continuing research on GRX-810 to optimize the alloy and publish more data in the future.

Other co-authors of the Nature publication include Timothy Gabb and Bryan Harder of NASA Glenn Research Center, Nikolai Zarkevich and John Lawson of NASA Ames Research Center, Paul Gradl of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Aaron Thompson of HX5 LLC.

Category: Research