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Super Alloys

A superalloy, or high-performance alloy, is an alloy that exhibits excellent mechanical strength and creep resistance at high temperatures, good surface stability, and corrosion and oxidation resistance. A superalloy's base alloying element is usually nickel, cobalt, or iron.

Superalloys are metallic materials for service at high temperatures, particularly in the hot zones of gas turbines. Such materials allow the turbine to operate more efficiently by withstanding higher temperatures.

One of the most important superalloy properties is high temperature creep resistance. Other crucial material properties are fatigue life, phase stability, as well as oxidation and corrosion resistance.

Chemical development
Superalloys develop high temperature strength through solid solution strengthening. Solid solution strengthening is a type of alloying that can be used to improve the strength of a pure metal. The technique works by adding atoms of one element (the alloying element) to the crystalline lattice another element (the base metal). The alloying element diffuses into the matrix, forming a solid solution.

The strength of a material is dependent on how easily dislocations in its crystal lattice can be propagated. These dislocations create stress fields within the material depending on their character. When solute atoms are introduced, local stress fields are formed that interact with those of the dislocations, impeding their motion and causing an increase in the yield stress of the material, which means an increase in strength of the material.

Oxidation and corrosion resistance is provided by the formation of a protective oxide layer which is formed when the metal is exposed to oxygen and encapsulates the material, and thus protecting the rest of the component. Oxidation or corrosion resistance is provided by elements such as aluminium and chromium.

Creep resistance is dependent on slowing the speed of dislocations within the crystal structure. In Ni-base superalloys the gamma prime phase [Ni3(Al,Ti)] present acts as a coherent barrier to dislocation motion and is a precipitate strengthener. Chemical additions such as aluminum and titanium promote the creation of the gamma prime phase. The gamma prime phase size can be precisely controlled by careful precipitation hardening heat treatments.

Superalloys are often classified into first, second and third generation alloys. The second and third generations contain about 3 wt% and 6wt% of rhenium respectively. Rhenium is a very expensive addition but leads to an improvement in the creep strength and fatigue resistance. It is also claimed that rhenium reduces the overall diffusion rate in nickel based superalloys.

Examples and composition of some superalloys

Nickel based superalloys

Nickel-based alloys can be either solid solution or precipitation strengthened. Solid solutioned strengthened alloys, such as Hastelloy X, are used in applications requiring only modest strength. Most nickel-based alloys contain 10-20% Cr, up to 8% Al and Ti, 5-10% Co, and small amounts of B, Zr, and C. Other common additions are Mo, W, Ta, Hf, and Nb.

Iron based superalloys

Iron-based superalloys are characterized by high temperature as well as roomtemperature strength and resistance to creep, oxidation, corrosion, and wear. Wear resistance increases with carbon content. Maximum wear resistance is obtained in alloys 611, 612, and 613, which are used in high-temperature aircraft bearings and machinery parts subjected to sliding contact. Oxidation resistance increases with chromium content.

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