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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 3, 2008
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A Revolutionary Braking System
December 3, 2008   
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The ALFA composite-AL for aluminum and FA for fly ash-is a new high-performance material that can be used to make ultra-light aluminum brake discs.

The ALFA brake discs are the results of research carried out at the Foundry Research Institute in Gliwice in southern Poland and the institute's collaboration with scientists at the Motor Transport Institute in Warsaw. The brake discs won the Gold Medal and a commendation at the 2007 Eureka innovation fair in Brussels.

Cheap and eco-friendly
Metallurgists have been carrying out research for many years on composite metals-metals combined with either another metal or a ceramic or organic compound. Many of a metal's mechanical properties are enhanced when it appears in a composite form, such as its ability to withstand stress, fatigue and temperature fluctuations; its elasticity and heat conductivity. Oxides, carbides and nitrides have been used to date as composite materials.

The innovative use of fly ash in Gliwice has resulted in a competitive metal composite for its properties combined with an eco-friendly solution because fly ash is a problematic waste product of power plants and foundries. Moreover, from an economic point of view, the production of composite metal with fly ash as a component and the making of products from it is significantly cheaper.

Aluminum was chosen as the base metal for ALFA brake discs. Fly ash is mixed with a relatively soft aluminum alloy at an approximate ratio of 1:5. Such a combination of metal and a ceramic compound results in material strength comparable to that of cast iron. According to the designers of the ALFA brake discs, the technology introduces a whole new way of thinking about the material used in the construction of brake systems.

Besides being significantly lighter in weight, the new material reduces the maximum temperature at which the heating system needs to work. Furthermore, the life expectancy of these new brake discs is much longer. They are expected to work faultlessly for hundreds of thousands of kilometers. Moreover, this technological know-how could be applied to both mass car production and the manufacture of racing cars and special-purpose and luxury vehicles, in addition to rail transport and aviation.

Polish proposal
The Eureka competition judges were particularly impressed with the ecological and economic benefits of the ALFA brake system. The use of fly ash as a component of the composite metal helps solve the problem of what to do with this environmentally harmful waste product and reduces its storage requirements. At the same time, fly ash is a cheap raw material in abundant supply. Further research into the use of fly ash as a component of composite metals could not only result in another unique product like the ALFA brake system but also bring to light new possibilities for using it in various sectors of the economy.

Engineers at the Foundry Research Institute say their ALFA technology will result in the development of new materials that could replace some modern construction materials, particularly composite materials containing silicon carbide or aluminum oxide. Such new materials are available on the European market but are expensive and difficult to use when cutting around objects. The most promising physical property of fly-ash composite metal for application in foundries is the resultant metal density and its thermal properties. The composite metal's high melting and softening temperatures and low heat-conduction factor make it suitable for foundry molds.

Safer driving, better fuel economy
The Foundry Research Institute and the Motor Transport Institute are trying to identify the usefulness of this new composite material for brake discs in passenger cars. Laboratory research and practical tests are being carried out to assess how well the new brake discs withstand real road conditions. According to the ALFA designers, their material and construction design could in the future revolutionize the prevailing approach to friction systems whereby heavy metal-alloy brake discs are used. Meanwhile, the use of ALFA brake discs made with lightweight components significantly streamlines the braking system and makes for a more comfortable driving experience with better fuel economy. The high heat conductivity of the composite material, together with its improved resistance to heat fatigue, will have a direct effect on driving safety. Moreover, the production of parts from this aluminum alloy composite is significantly more economical because of lower electricity usage and the utilization of fly ash, which is, after all, a waste product.

Ewa Dereń
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