Canadian firm’s nanomaterials make heavy metal lighter, stronger

Click here to enlarge image

March 27, 2003 — Research into nanometallurgy has confirmed that reducing the grain in almost any metal will greatly increase its strength and resistance to wear. A Canadian company, Integran Technologies Inc., holds at least a dozen patents on processes related to nanometals and is successfully moving the technology to market.

Click here to enlarge image

Integran’s armor plating has a toughness index 2.5 times the required specifications written for U.S. military vehicles for the year 2020. Body armor, being produced as a fabric as well as metal plate, is seven times as tough as that currently available for soldiers, police forces and SWAT teams. This means its weight may be reduced to one-seventh the current weight if current levels of resistance to ballistics were to be maintained. Or, if weight is not a problem, it could simply be made seven times stronger.

Click here to enlarge image

Gino Palumbo, Integran’s president and chief technical officer, showed Small Times a variety of structures fabricated in the company’s Toronto workshops. Among them were films, fabrics and metallic mesh as well as solid freestanding forms that looked as though they might have been made using ordinary metallurgy, but felt different to the touch. Palumbo would not say exactly how they were made, but he did demonstrate how nanometallic film could be produced in any thickness required on a titanium reel immersed in an electrolytic chemical bath.

Click here to enlarge image

The capabilities of Integran’s technology in nanometallics interested Babcock & Wilcox, suppliers of steam generating equipment to power, utility and industrial plants around the world. The company used the method to repair and restore boiler tubing without removing it from the customer’s site.

Integran’s method employs electrodeposition to restore the damaged or deteriorated section’s thickness. The new metal layer is stronger, tougher and much more wear-resistant than the metal it replaced.

“This method of repairing tubes is a cost-effective way to prolong unit life and maintain the maximum number of tubes in service to preserve operating margins,” said Doug Lee, program manager at Babcock & Wilcox Canada. “The technology is not just restricted to internal repairs, but can also be applied externally to piping systems to restore wall thickness reduced by internal corrosion and erosion effects.”

Palumbo said Integran’s research has confirmed that the anti-microbial properties of some metals — such as silver, which kills bacteria on contact — are enhanced as the crystalline structures are reduced. He speculated that this is likely due to the higher effective surface area of the more tightly packed particles.

Integran also discovered that some more durable and less expensive metals can be similarly treated to display the same effect, making the technology applicable to common items such as door handles and faucets. That would help maintain sterile environments in health care facilities and food processing plants as well as in the home. Integran also employs nanometals in its manufacture of ozone-producing electrodes used in home sterilization products.

Lead, a soft metal, responds positively to efforts to improve its grain structure, according to Palumbo. Integran has produced battery plate components that will resist crumbling, corrosion and erosion, allowing the plates to be made smaller, lighter, stronger and more durable.

The material could allow auto manufacturers to incorporate lighter, smaller lead/acid batteries into the limited underhood space in their newest models. Or, if predictions come true of new 24-volt or higher batteries for automotive hybrid propulsion systems, a lot more storage capacity could be packed into a smaller volume.

After that, how about smaller, lighter, more powerful magnets for high-performance power transformers, electric motors, amplifiers and field sensors, all featuring nanocrystalline ferromagnets.

“There haven’t been many practical results in research into nanotechnologies to date,” said Doug Perovic, chairman of the materials engineering department at the University of Toronto. He said Integran’s research represents real strides with tangible results that are being viewed by industry for their potential in applied science and technology.

Still, Palumbo believes his company is on to something that produces tangible benefits in the real world. He refers to what Integran does as “grain boundary engineering,” which describes a system of reducing metallic grain structure boundaries to make the metal less vulnerable to fracture and corrosion. This, in turn, enhances the reliability of critical mechanical components, with the potential to reduce operating costs in almost any industry.

To this end, Integran is offering to help analyze problems, test materials and assess the feasibility of proposed systems in any metal in any industrial application. Integran also manufactures critical components or licenses its patented processes to industrial customers.

Tom Malis, science adviser at Natural Resources Canada, said Integran’s cross-industry applications help coordinate Canada’s scattered nanotech efforts.

“This is why companies like Integran are so important,” he said. “Well before nanotech became a hot topic, Integran spun off from Ontario Hydro, linked with leading-edge research by Professor Ewe Erb at University of Toronto and applied nanotech to one of the first industrial processes, practical corrosion-resistant coatings of steam generating plant cooling tubes.

“Since then, Integran has diversified the electroplating technology developed by Erb to cover a wide range of applications. Such solid bread-and-butter applications are absolutely crucial for nanotech to become a viable means for economic benefit.”


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.