Nanostructured Copper Alloys as an Alternative to Copper-Beryllium



Copper-beryllium alloys are widely used because of their high strength-to-density ratio, which can be achieved with relatively small alloying additions (generally less than 5% Be). Yield strength values in excess of 150 ksi (~1000 MPa), far greater than that of conventional pure copper, can easily be obtained by strengthening the copper-beryllium alloys via age (or precipitation) hardening. However, beryllium is a toxic substance, and thus for both environmental and safety considerations, exposure levels must be minimized throughout the entire life cycle of the component.

The objective of this project is to develop and validate a cost-effective, robust nanocrystalline copper electroplating/electroforming process capable of producing material for both structural and functional components that fully conforms to the mechanical and electrical property requirements for current and future copper-beryllium alloy needs and applications. Three distinct product forms will be targeted: (1) bulk nanocrystalline material for rod/bushing applications, (2) nanometal/composite hybrids for high specific strength/stiffness components, and (3) nanometal cobalt/copper enabled conductor wire. Additionally, the nanostructured copper alloy will be optimized to meet or exceed the performance of copper-beryllium alloys in terms of wear resistance, friction coefficient in dry sliding wear against low-alloy steels, thermal conductivity, resistance to galling and spalling, axial fatigue, and rolling contact fatigue.

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Technical Approach

In the first phase of the project, the nanostructured copper alloy will be optimized for strength and the fundamental material properties will be characterized. The team will then perform a proof-of-concept demonstration of the three proposed application areas. For each of the application areas, a go/no-go decision will be made at the end of Phase I regarding further optimization and testing against incumbent copper-beryllium materials in Phase II.

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If successful, this project will develop an environmentally benign nanostructured alloy with significant performance enhancements in both mechanical properties (in components such as bushings and bearings) and electrical performance (in contacts and electrical wire) relative to incumbent copper-beryllium alloys. By retaining copper as the principal base metal, the approach minimizes the degree of deviation from current practice (and experience), thereby accelerating the adoption of the technology by the defense sector. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2013)

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Jonathan McCrea

Integran Technologies

Phone: 416-675-6266 x235

Fax: 416-675-1666

Program Manager

Weapons Systems and Platforms


Document Types

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