Manufacturing High Entropy Alloys: Pathway to Industrial Competitiveness

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Since time immemorial, people have had to work with the materials available in a given place and time to meet production needs. Today, there’s a paradigm shift happening. Rather than “using the material they have,” manufacturers may soon be able to “engineer the material they need.” This means tailoring materials to meet the specific requirements of the application at hand.

High entropy alloys (HEAs) are a special class of alloys with the potential to offer extraordinary material properties, unique property combinations, and affordable replacements for high-cost or rare materials. HEAs will deliver new choices to manufacturers and create alternatives to materials that are scarce, hazardous, expensive, or subject to international restrictions or conflict.

It’s a far-reaching revolution in materials science.

Emerging HEAs can help advance economic growth and U.S. national competitiveness as well as progress toward important societal goals. Consider some of the following potential applications of HEAs:

  • Energy: Solid state cooling, liquified natural gas handling, nuclear degradation resistant materials, corrosion-resistant heat exchangers, and efficiency gains from high-temperature performance.
  • National Security: high-performance aerospace materials and ultra-hardness ballistics.
  • Healthcare: Strong, corrosion-resistant medical devices and advances in magnetic resonance imaging.

There’s still work ahead to realize this revolution in materials science. In spite of significant research advances in producing lab scale prototypes, there are still hurdles to manufacturing HEAs at scale. From manufacturing processes to testing to data to resources, serious barriers remain.

Still, the challenges are surmountable. Through strategic public- and private-sector research and investment, it will be possible to manufacture and make use of HEAs at scale.

The United States has made leading investments in HEA research and advanced materials resources. Examples include material sample creation at the Ames Laboratory Materials Preparation Center, material characterization at Oak Ridge National Laboratory Neutron User Facilities, and modeling and analysis through the National Institute of Standards and Technology Material Genome Initiative. America’s federal laboratories and universities are fostering a deep expertise and promising research with respect to alloys, manufacturing processes, and analysis methods.

MForesight: Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight recently convened leading U.S. industry, research, and public-sector experts and practitioners to gather insights and identify the cross-cutting problems and prospects for HEA manufacturing in the United States. In line with MForesight’s mission of providing coordinated input from the manufacturing community to inform national priorities in advanced manufacturing, the consortium found four clear and actionable recommendations for boosting U.S. competitiveness in HEA manufacturing:

  1. Invest in critical translational research for HEA manufacturing, from the earliest alloy identification to processes enabling final part production. HEA processing technologies need to be developed past the prototype stage to enable scalable manufacturing.
  2. Establish a National Testing Center for HEAs focused on high-throughput testing to enable rapid discovery, testing, and validation of HEAs and manufacturing processes.
  3. Develop a central database for HEA data to minimize duplicative efforts and accelerate innovations by U.S. researchers and manufacturers.
  4. Enhance collaborative efforts through increased access to federal facilities and expertise and through the establishment of an interdisciplinary working group. Leveraging and aligning existing federal resources and efforts are essential to HEA manufacturing progress.

In creating HEAs at scale, it will be possible for manufacturers to obtain just the materials they need for a specific application. For the United States, this shift has crucial implications for economic competitiveness and national interests from defense to energy to healthcare. While there’s major work ahead, MForesight’s recommendations present a practical roadmap to realizing the potential.

Click this link to read the High Entropy Alloy report.