University of Manchester Win £6m Grant to Develop New Class of Light Alloys

The University of Manchester has been awarded £5.98m to develop a new class of light alloy solutions that will transform the way aircraft, trains and automobiles are built.

The grant, which will span a five year period, has been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the Portfolio Partnership Scheme.

Research into improving the performance of light alloys will be carried out in conjunction with Alcan, Novelis, BAE Systems, Airbus, MEL and Jaguar.

The project, entitled: “Light Alloys for Environmentally Sustainable Transport,” will be the largest of its kind in the UK with plans for over fifty research staff over the next five years.

It will focus on developing new methods for the processing, forming, joining and surface engineering of aluminium, titanium and magnesium. The aim is to develop new engineering processes which will enable aircraft and car manufacturers to design and build lighter, more environmentally-friendly vehicles using these materials.

Professor George Thompson, Head of the Corrosion and Protection Centre in the School of Materials, who is leading the project, said: “These materials are exceptionally difficult to form into complex shapes or weld, which dramatically limits their use in the design and manufacture of air, land and sea vessels.

“This is a major issue for the automotive and aerospace industries that are under increasing pressure to save fuel and reduce pollution. If we can improve processes such as the welding of aluminium panels then they will be able to build much lighter aircraft and cars, saving on fuel and emissions.”

£2m has been earmarked for cutting edge equipment to aid the research. This will include state of the art characterisation facilities, advanced welding apparatus and laser surface treatment equipment.

Research will focus on four main areas of joining, forming, microstructure and surface modification, and will address major issues such as the use of anti-corrosive chromate coatings in the aerospace industry which have a significant impact on the environment.

Professor Philip Prangnell from the School of Materials, said: “These processing methods will enable components to be manufactured more cheaply and with much less waste material than that associated with current methods. Ultimately, we hope our research will see stronger, lighter, more environmentally-compliant materials incorporated into the next generation of aircraft, cars and ships.

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