How diverse is materials research at Mines these days? Read about these three high-profile programs, housed in different departments and spanning a wide spectrum of industries, and judge for yourself.
Since chairing a National Research Council committee that led to an influential book on rare and critical minerals, Division of Economics and Business Director Rod Eggert has earned national and international respect as an authority on the subject, speaking to industry groups, the European Union in Brussels, Belguim, and more than one congressional committee. His latest project at Mines involves helping to lead the newly formed Critical Materials Institute for the U.S. Department of Energy.
“The elements of concern evolve and change over time,” Eggert says, explaining that industries are constantly searching for less expensive substitutes and new supplies. Mines is slated to receive almost $14 million over five years to fund the institute, which will encompass the nuts-and-bolts science and engineering of critical minerals, as well as economic analysis. While this is certainly not new territory for the university, linking economic analysis with science and engineering as a major partner of a high-profile national institute dedicated to an issue of such importance breaks new ground.
The new grant will more than double research related to critical materials at Mines, providing funding for perhaps 10 new graduate students. Other Mines faculty currently involved include Corby Anderson, Michael Kaufman, Barry Martin, Nigel Middleton, Brajendra Mishra, John Speer, Patrick Taylor ’74, PhD ’78 and Doug Way.
The auto industry has a major challenge to overcome in the next decade: In 2016, federal regulations require manufacturers to increase average fuel economy for cars from 29.7 to 35.5 mpg, and by 2025, the average for cars and light-duty trucks jumps to 54.5 mpg. While both require big changes, to meet the 2025 standard will require fundamental innovation.
One way to achieve greater fuel efficiency is by making lighter cars, says Emmanuel De Moor, a research assistant professor with the Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. However, lighter can’t mean flimsy; manufacturers need solutions that don’t compromise occupant safety.
De Moor says this can be achieved by influencing the microstructure of sheet steel in a way that improves both formability and strength. That’s the goal behind a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Energy grant recently awarded to De Moor’s team, which aims to develop processes for making a next-generation steel that, in addition to helping make more fuel-efficient cars, would require less energy to process because it can be stamped into auto body parts at room temperature. Hot stamping currently requires heating steel to 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit.
De Moor’s team for this project includes several Mines faculty, students and alumni, including Professor Emeritus David Matlock, Professor John Speer, and Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Amy Clarke MS ’02, PhD ’06 and Kester Clarke MS ’02, PhD ’08. DOE support is supplemented with private funding from AK Steel, General Motors, Nucor Steel, Severstal, Toyota and United States Steel.
When scientists at Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories needed a partner to help develop an unusually hard coating for tunnel boring equipment, it was natural they should turn to the Earth Mechanics Institute (EMI) at Colorado School of Mines. Since just about every major tunnel-boring project in the world relies on the institute for customized equipment specifications for their location, its expertise in testing rock boring equipment is unparalleled.
The unusual aspect of this collaboration is the material developed: an extremely resilient coating, similar to a ceramic, that is deposited on cutting edges using powerful lasers. Able to extend the life of cutting equipment by as much as 20 percent, NanoSHIELD (Nano Super Hard Inexpensive Laser Deposited) coating performed so well in tests that it was selected for a prestigious R&D 100 Award in 2012, and R&D Magazine included it in a feature titled, ‘9 Materials That Will Change the Future of Manufacturing.’
Brian Asbury, who has worked on the program since it began in 2004, has headed up Mines’ involvement since 2010, when he took over from the former director, Levent Ozdemir ’73, MS ’75, PhD ’78. Funding was provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the DOE’s Loan Programs Office, Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.