Magnesium Award 2011: scientist honored for new high performance alloy

The “Magnesium Research Award”, endowed with 5,000 euro, has been conferred by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht since 2007.

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This prize offers recognition to young researchers for their innovative research in the field of magnesium. The prize winner this year is the Chinese scientist, Professor Xiaoqin Zeng of the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai.

Lightweight construction in automobile and aircraft manufacture leads to a reduction in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. The utilisation of the magnesium alloys developed by Prof. Xiaoqin Zeng can make an effective contribution to these light construction endeavours. What is so innovative about the new alloy is that it contains rare earths as a special ingredient. Professor Dr. Karl Ulrich Kainer, head of the Geesthacht Magnesium Innovation Center at the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht, explains the selection of this particular award winner as follows: “The possibilities of this new material family are highly promising. Professor Xiaoqin Zeng has presented groundbreaking results in the field of hardenable magnesium alloys for high-vacuum die casting processes”.

Magnesium is up to four times as light as steel, and one and a half times lighter than aluminium. Pure magnesium is, however, rarely utilized due to its low hardness and great susceptibility to corrosion. Magnesium alloys, on the other hand, have the advantageous characteristics of low weight, high strength and corrosion resistance. They are being increasingly employed in the manufacture of vehicles. The future overall potential for magnesium is estimated at more than 50 kilograms per vehicle. Magnesium alloys could, therefore, become a very important light construction material, as they have a high level of availability and can, in principle, be recycled effectively.

Magnesium alloys with rare earths

Professor Xiaoqin Zeng, National Engineering Research Center of Light Alloy Net Forming, School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, is conducting research into new magnesium alloys with rare earth elements. These include, for example: gadolinium, dysprosium, neodymium or cerium. Even very small additions, amounting to less than one percent, can considerably improve material properties such as toughness, high temperature resistance and creep resistance.

Magnesium alloys with rare earth constituents present great opportunities for a new family of high performance alloys which are particularly suitable for cast construction parts requiring good mechanical properties at room temperature or at high temperatures.