We know that thermal efficiency indicates the percentage of heat that is converted to work. Per the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the higher an engine’s temperature, the higher the Carnot efficiency. In other words, combustion engines with higher combustion temperatures can attain higher fuel efficiencies.
This requires the development of new materials to manufacture lightweight and high-strength components.
Take the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicles Technologies Office (VTO) as an example. The Department is on a mission to improve the efficiency of advanced internal combustion engines by 25% to 50%. To achieve this, VTO is leveraging the methods of ICME, which is developing advanced materials, not just for the optimization of engines in automotive, but the aerospace industry as well.
In short, when engines run hotter, they perform better, but the issue is that traditional metal alloys start losing their strength at higher temperatures.
In this blog post, we examine how aluminum, nickel, niobium, and titanium alloys help engines withstand higher temperatures, creating fuel efficiencies and releasing fewer carbon emissions.
Materials Will Enable All Types of Engines
Internal Combustion Engines
Aluminum conducts heat at fast rates, which means that an aluminum engine block absorbs heat from combustion chambers, preventing engine damage. The alloy also creates a higher static compression ratio, allowing increased thermal efficiency and power.
Nickel alloys are finding use in automotive valves of high-performance engines. INCONEL and INCOLOY alloys have applications in fuel-efficient engines that burn fuel at elevated temperatures (more on these alloys for turbine engine use below).
Turbine Engines – Aircraft & Power Generation
Nickel alloys have several applications in the aerospace sector, thanks to their impressive heat resistance and strength. Nickel alloys are used to build jet engine parts like discs and turbine blades due to suitable properties like the ability to withstand high temperatures, hardness, and corrosion resistance.
QuesTek is leading the industry with its development and application of QTSX–a next level, single crystal nickel superalloy that exhibits superior castability compared to incumbent single crystal alloys–designed for turbine blades in industrial gas turbines.
Titanium alloys find wide use in the aerospace sector. The engine combustion chambers and exhaust are exposed to high heat from burning fuel. Since titanium alloys have high heat resistance and strength together, they are suitable for aircraft engines.
These properties also make titanium alloys viable materials for engine parts like connecting rods, retainers, and valve springs.
Niobium alloys have potential to revolutionize the turbine industry with their unique combination of very high melting temperature and low density. However, their low oxidation resistance prohibits their use today. Current research led by QuesTek is looking to combine novel manufacturing with ICME design to create a gradient Niobium alloy enhancing oxidation resistance AND high temperature mechanical properties.
As engines go, hotter is better, and advanced materials are playing a key role in reducing carbon emissions and improving fuel efficiencies by allowing higher combustion temperatures.
QuesTek Innovations LLC is a global leader in ICME technologies and has used its proprietary Materials by Design® methodology to rapidly design and deploy a family of commercially-available Ferrium® steels being used in demanding applications. For over 20 years, QuesTek has been selected by all branches of the US government and a growing and diverse industrial client base to understand and resolve their most pressing materials challenges. Contact us today to learn more about our cutting-edge capabilities and how we can leverage our ICME approach to resolve your most pressing materials challenges.