This technology underlies an early success for Advanced Magnesium Technologies in the US car industry. The USCAR coalition of the big-three US carmakers, Daimler Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and the US Department of Energy, chose the AM-SC1 magnesium alloy in early 2005 for a new light-weight engine block to test over the following two years. This light-weight alloy reduces fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, while improving vehicle agility by cutting the mass at the front of the vehicle. Magnesium alloy AM-SC1 has been specially formulated for sand casting of permanent mould casting of powertrain components of cars, such as engine blocks and transmission housings, which require high strength at elevated temperatures in the range 150-200°C.
Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1 Prototype Engine Block
Magnesium alloy AM-SC1 has already been used for the engine block of a prototype three-cylinder turbo diesel engine, designed and manufactured by AVL List in Austria. This engine completed a 65-thousand km road-test in October 2004 with flying colours.
AM-SC1 has a significant market potential; a conversion of only 10 per cent of the world's engine blocks to magnesium alloys like AM-SC1 would double the automotive industry's demand for magnesium alloys to about 300,00 tonnes a year. As a result of this market potential, Advanced Magnesium Technologies has developed AM-SC1 to be suitable for mass production of intricate engine blocks by sand casting or cheaper permanent mould casting.
Commercial Opportunities for Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1
Powertrain components (e.g. engines, transmissions) offer considerable opportunity for light weighting to bring about reductions in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions and improvements in vehicle agility. This is because they generally have a high mass and are located in the front of the vehicle.
Market Potential for Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1
Conversion of just 10% of the current world production of 50 million vehicles pa to magnesium alloy engine blocks and transmission housings would lead to a doubling of the existing world demand for automotive magnesium alloys (approx 150,000 tpa). For most of these applications, new alloys need to be developed that have better high temperature strength than is currently available for mainstream magnesium die casting alloys. Because of this market potential, Advanced Magnesium Technologies set about to develop a magnesium alloy that would be suitable for mass production of complex engine blocks by either sand casting or permanent mould casting. Sand casting is a manufacturing method that offers an opportunity to cast higher integrity and more complex parts than high pressure die casting. High pressure die casting has associated high levels of porosity and limitations in part design, but is generally cheaper than sand casting.
AM-HP2 a High Pressure Die Casting Alternative Magnesium alloy to AM-SC1
The similarity in composition and properties between the high pressure die casting magnesium alloys, AM-HP2, and AM-SC1 provides an opportunity for these two alloys to be interchanged in powertrain development programs. AM-SC1 can be used for prototyping and short run production by sand casting while magnesium alloy AM-HP2 is highly suitable for mass production by high pressure die casting.
More Opportunities for Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1 with New Casting Technologies
Recent developments in permanent mould casting of magnesium alloys, using processes such as CSIRO’s new T-Mag process, are creating further opportunities for AM-SC1. CSIRO has demonstrated that high quality castings of AM-SC1 can be produced by the T-Mag process.
Developmental Path for Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1
The former Australian Magnesium Corporation (AMC) commenced working with the German engine component caster VAW in 1998, to develop a suitable alloy and sand casting technology for the mass production of a magnesium engine block. VAW engaged the Austrian engine design company, AVL List, to design a demonstration magnesium engine and AMC took out a licence for an alloy, MEZ, that was in an early stage of development by the UK company, Magnesium Elektron Limited (MEL). AMC then commenced a program of further alloy development with its research partner CAST. Research by AMC and CAST led to successful development of the alloy, AM-SC1, that fully met the demanding requirements of the engine developers, AVL, and which could be sand cast into an engine block by VAW. A prototype three cylinder turbo diesel engine (Genios LE) that utilises AM-SC1 was launched by the automobile industry (AVL) in October 2002. VAW was taken over by Hydro Aluminium in June 2002 and Hydro subsequently withdrew from the joint development project with Australian Magnesium Corporation. All technology developed in the joint program between AMC and VAW has now been taken over by Advanced Magnesium Technologies, and Advanced Magnesium Technologies is in the process of developing new programs to commercialise the technology.
Successful Trial of a Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1 Based Magnesium Engine Block
The Genius LE three cylinder turbo diesel engine was mounted in a Volkswagen Lupo car and road tested for two years over a distance of 65,000 km. Towards the end of 2004 the engine was removed and inspected internally for wear and tear by AVL's engineers. Damage to the engine block during the road test was minimal and both alloy and engine design have been given a very solid seal of approval by the engineers.
Patents Covering Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1
Applications have been made for international patents to protect the AM-SC1 technology and patents have already been issued in some jurisdictions such as USA. Advanced Magnesium Technologies has exclusive global rights for use of the alloy in large scale automotive applications. A number of automotive companies are now trialling the alloy for their own applications.
Current Status of Commercialisation of Magnesium Alloy AM-SC1
Advanced Magnesium Technologies is actively involved in a US light weight magnesium engine program that is supported by the US Department of Energy and the Big Three auto manufacturers (Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler). This program, known as the USCAR MPCC (Magnesium Powertrain Cast Components) project, is aimed at the development of a light weight magnesium engine for use under American conditions. Following an exhaustive selection process and much research by the project participants, AM-SC1 was selected as the preferred alloy for the engine block of this development program.
Advanced Magnesium Technologies anticipates that this program will continue for at least another two years. During this time however, it presents Advanced Magnesium Technologies with an opportunity to identify and target specific commercial opportunities. Amongst these the US military represents an important target. The logistics of providing fuel to military vehicles in the field is complex and expensive. Improving fuel efficiency by reducing vehicle weight is becoming an increasingly important objective. Trials are also being undertaken by a number of automotive companies and foundries to assess AM-SC1 for lightweight engine components.