Materials

Aluminum-Alloy-Matrix/Alumina-Reinforcement Composites

Relatively inexpensive, lightweight composite parts could be substitutes for some superalloy parts. Isotropic composites of aluminumalloy matrices reinforced with particulate alumina have been developed as lightweight, high-specific-strength, essexpensive alternatives to nickel-base and ferrous superalloys. These composites feature a specific gravity of about 3.45 g/cm3 and specific strengths of about 200 MPa/(g/cm3). The room-temperature tensile strength is 100 ksi (689 MPa) and stiffness is 30 Msi (206 GPa). At 500 °F (260 °C), these composites have shown 80 percent retention in strength and 95 percent retention in stiffness. These materials also have excellent fatigue tolerance and tribological properties. They can be fabricated in net (or nearly net) sizes and shapes to make housings, pistons, valves, and ducts in turbomachinery, and to make structural components of such diverse systems as diesel engines, automotive brake systems, and power-generation, mining, and oil-drilling equipment. Separately,incorporation of these metal matrix composites within aluminum gravity castings for localized reinforcement has been demonstrated.

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Curing Composite Materials Using Lower-Energy Electron Beams

Less shielding is needed at lower beam energies. In an improved method of fabricating composite-material structures by laying up prepreg tapes (tapes of fiber reinforcement impregnated by uncured matrix materials) and then curing them, one cures the layups by use of beams of electrons having kinetic energies in the range of 200 to 300 keV. In contrast, in a prior method, one used electron beams characterized by kinetic energies up to 20 MeV. The improved method was first suggested by an Italian group in 1993, but had not been demonstrated until recently.

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Safer Electrolytes for Lithium-Ion Cells

A number of nonvolatile, low-flammability liquid oligomers and polymers based on aliphatic organic carbonate molecular structures have been found to be suitable to be blended with ethylene carbonate to make electrolytes for lithium-ion electro- chemical cells. Heretofore, such electrolytes have often been made by blending ethylene carbonate with volatile, flammable organic carbonates. The present nonvolatile electrolytes have been found to have adequate conductivity (about 2 mS/cm) for lithium ions and to remain liquid at temperatures down to —5 °C. At normal charge and discharge rates, lithiumion cells containing these nonvolatile electrolytes but otherwise of standard design have been found to operate at current and energy densities comparable to those of cells now in common use. They do not perform well at high charge and discharge rates — an effect probably attributable to electrolyte viscosity. Cells containing the nonvolatile electrolytes have also been found to be, variously, nonflammable or at least self-extinguishing. Hence, there appears to be a basis for the development of safer high-performance lithium-ion cells.

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Electrodeionization Using Microseparated Bipolar Membranes

Low concentrations of ions do not inhibit further removal of ions. An electrochemical technique for deionizing water, now under development, is intended to overcome a major limitation of prior electrically–based waterpurification techniques. The limitation in question is caused by the desired decrease in the concentration of ions during purification: As the concentration of ions decreases, the electrical resistivity of the water increases, posing an electrical barrier to the removal of the remaining ions. In the present technique, this limitation is overcome by use of electrodes, a flow-field structure, and solid electrolytes configured to provide conductive paths for the removal of ions from the water to be deionized, even when the water has already been purified to a high degree.

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Lightweight, Rack-Mountable Composite Cold Plate/Shelves

Rack-mountable composite-material structural components that would serve as both shelves and cold plates for removing heat from electronic or other equipment mounted on the shelves have been proposed as lightweight alternatives to allmetal cold plate/shelves now in use. A proposed cold plate/shelf would include a highly thermally conductive face sheet containing oriented graphite fibers bonded to an aluminum honeycomb core, plus an extruded stainless-steel substructure containing optimized flow passages for a cooling fluid, and an inlet and outlet that could be connected to standard manifold sections. To maximize heat-transfer efficiency, the extruded stainless-steel substructure would be connected directly to the face sheet. On the basis of a tentative design, the proposed composite cold plate/shelf would weigh about 38 percent less than does an all-aluminum cold plate in use or planned for use in some spacecraft and possibly aircraft. Although weight is a primary consideration, the tentative design offers the additional benefit of reduction of thickness to half that of the all-aluminum version.

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Patterned Growth of Carbon Nanotubes or Nanofibers

Numerous parameters of deposition conditions, structures, and compositions affect what is grown. A method and apparatus for the growth of carbon nanotubes or nanofibers in a desired pattern has been invented. The essence of the method is to grow the nanotubes or nanofibers by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) onto a patterned catalyst supported by a substrate.

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Improved Method of Purifying Carbon Nanotubes

An improved method of removing the residues of fabrication from carbon nanotubes has been invented. These residues comprise amorphous carbon and metal particles that are produced during the growth process. Prior methods of removing the residues include a variety of processes that involved the use of halogens, oxygen, or air in both thermal and plasma processes. Each of the prior methods entails one or more disadvantages, including non-selectivity (removal or damage of nanotubes in addition to removal of the residues), the need to dispose of toxic wastes, and/or processing times as long as 24 hours or more. In contrast, the process described here does not include the use of toxic chemicals, the generation of toxic wastes, causes little or no damage to the carbon nanotubes, and involves processing times of less than 1 hour.

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