Saturday, December 26, 2015

Not Rearden Metal - But Very Close To It

Subtitle: Magnesium with Distributed Silicon Carbide Nanoparticles

The headline from the UCLA press release reads: (see link)

"UCLA researchers create exceptionally strong and lightweight new metal"

"Magnesium infused with dense silicon carbide nanoparticles could be used for airplanes, cars, mobile electronics and more"  -- end headline

Flashback to the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, in which one of the main characters, Hank Rearden, invents a miracle metal that is stronger than steel and weighs much less.    Here, UCLA has done exactly that.  

The magnesium metal nanocomposite can be used to good advantage where strength is required but weight is a drawback.  Replacing steel in cars and other vehicles, use in aircraft frames, spacecraft, probably in military applications such as missiles flying farther, mobile electronics, and medical devices are some of the likely applications.    Bridges and rails for railroads, though, are not mentioned in the press release although those are primary uses for Rearden Metal in Rand's novel. 

Magnesium is a very common metal on Earth, so running out is not a problem.   Magnesium is a big component of ordinary seawater, as dissolved Magnesium Chloride MgCl2.   Roughly, one ton (2,000 pounds) of typical seawater contains 2.4 pounds of magnesium. 

Dow Chemical Company manufactures magnesium from seawater (Gulf of Mexico), as stated on their website:

"Dow first came to Texas in 1940, building a plant in Freeport to extract magnesium from seawater."

The Dow process precipitates magnesium from the seawater by addition of sodium hydroxide, NaOH, to produce Mg(OH)2.   The magnesium is then converted to metallic form.   Dow also has substantial chlorine-caustic production in Freeport, where the caustic is NaOH.  

The breakthrough was by Lian-Yi Chen, PhD, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral scholar in Professor Xiaochun Li’s Scifacturing Laboratory at UCLA.  The process is a method to adequately disperse the nanoparticles in the magnesium.   Previous attempts resulted in the nanoparticles clumping together.  

This is one to watch. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell all rights reserved

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