Stronger Steel for the Cars of Tomorrow

Posted on Thursday, November 26, 2015

Elisa Cantergiani accepts her team's award

University of Ottawa PhD student Elisa Cantergiani has lead a team of researchers to win the 2015 T.C. Graham Prize, awarded by the Association for Iron and Steel Technology (AIST). Researchers from both academia and industry compete annually for this prestigious prize, awarded for the most innovative applications of steel that could help develop new markets. Elisa is a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering, and her teammates were Benjamin Lawrence and Chad Sinclair from the University of British Columbia, and Colin Scott from CanmetMATERIALS. The team accepted the $20,000 prize at the Italy Steel Forum in Dalmine, Italy on October 23, 2015. We asked Elisa to tell us about this experience:

 The Issue

Steel is one of the main materials used in car manufacturing. However, today’s very strict fuel efficiency standards require companies to greatly reduce the weight of cars. Materials such as aluminium have emerged as an alternative to steel, but aluminium has several manufacturing drawbacks and is expensive. In order to remain competitive and avoid losing a key market, steel companies are investigating new ways of producing stronger steels for thinner, lighter car components. An easy way to strengthen steel is to introduce carbon into its composition. Various methods (such as liquid carburizing) have been developed, but they require several hours of high heat treatment and are not usually applicable to thin steel sheets used in automotive applications. Furthermore, liquid carburizing uses chemicals that are poisonous to the environment and are difficult to recycle.

The Idea

Inspired by this, we proposed a new process of obtaining stronger Interstitial-free (IF) steel. This type of steel is already used in cars because it is very easy to form, but it lacks strength. Our new method allows us to carburize steel sheets by applying a carbon film to the surface of the material. Then, after an induction heat treatment of just 2 minutes followed by a quench in water, the obtained steel is 3-4 times stronger than what can be reached with the current processes. Our method is very time-efficient, uses much less energy, and does not involve poisonous chemicals.

About Me

I studied Materials Engineering at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. During my Bachelor’s degree, I acquired knowledge of math and mechanical engineering, and during my Master’s degree I studied materials and solid state physics. Then, after working for five years as an engineer, I decided to pursue a PhD. From 2011 to 2015, I have been a student in the group of Dr. Arnaud Weck at the University of Ottawa, working on graded steels and investigating new ways of strengthening steels. I chose the field of Materials Engineering because it allows me to join aspects of mechanical engineering and physics. A materials engineer needs to understand both the chemistry and the physics of materials, as well as their mechanical properties.

The Team

This project was a long process, and the result is the joining of several ideas. Most of the findings we have showcased in the competition for the T.C. Graham Prize have been obtained during my PhD, with the support of Arcelor Mittal. The idea of using carbon films to carburize the steel belongs to Dr. Colin Scott, while the idea of implementing induction heating and the experimental results were part of my work. During my PhD work, which includes this idea, most of the projects I worked on were collaborations between Canadian universities (University of British Columbia and University of Ottawa) and French universities (Université de Rouen and the Institut national des sciences appliquées (INSA) Lyon). This shows the importance of collaboration to reach good results in scientific research. I would like to sincerely thank my supervisor Dr. Arnaud Weck for giving me the opportunity to develop my ideas in collaboration with all the team members that with me have won the T.C. Graham Prize.

For more information about the T.C. Graham Prize, please visit the AIST website.

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