Driving Australia's light metal dollar further

Launch of Australian light metal research partnership

CSIRO today launched a national research partnership aimed at positioning Australia as a technology leader in designing lighter car components a key to making cars more fuel-efficient.

The new venture will also develop technology to make Australia competitive in manufacturing high-value titanium metal and metal products from the country's rich titanium ore deposits.

The Australian Partnership in Light Metals Research is the latest initiative of the Light Metals Flagship, one of six flagships established by the CSIRO to tackle major challenges facing the nation, such as adding value to its mineral resources.

The new light metals partnership is the second in the national Flagship Collaboration Fund program to enhance collaboration between CSIRO, Australian universities and other publicly funded research agencies.

As part of the $305 million over seven years provided by the Australian Government to the National Research Flagships, $97 million was specifically allocated to the Fund.

The partnership brings together three centres for light metals research and development the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Design in Light Metals based at Melbourne's Monash University; the Brisbane-based CAST Cooperative Research Centre (CRC); and the CSIRO Light Metals Flagship.

The Fund will provide $2.1 million over three years to the light metals partnership, with CAST and the ARC Centre of Excellence making equivalent co-contributions.

"This is about investing in Australia's future," says the Director of the Light Metals Flagship, Dr Raj Rajakumar.

"Australia has a strong capability in light metals research and this partnership brings together the expertise that is spread across many research institutions.

"The Australian Partnership in Light Metals Research will focus Australia's capabilities on strategic niches in the global market, such as the growing demand for lightweight vehicle components to reduce fuel consumption."

Through the CAST CRC, the partnership will develop an innovative approach to designing and making cost-effective, lightweight aluminium and magnesium components for suspension and transmission systems, brake assemblies and wheels. At the moment, many such components are made from heavier steel.

"Reducing vehicle weight is a key strategy for reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the world's 500 million cars," says Professor David StJohn, CEO of the CAST CRC.

"By pooling the resources of three major light metals research groups, Australia will be able to fast-track new technologies to commercialisation, with the aim of creating and keeping jobs here.

"Reducing the weight of suspension systems in cars will not only save fuel, it will also lead to improved handling and ride quality a bonus for car manufacturers and consumers."

One of the roles of the ARC Centre of Excellence will be to accelerate new technologies for making titanium alloys.

Titanium is prized by the aerospace industry, but most of Australia's titanium mineral ores are currently exported or used to make titanium dioxide pigment.

Titanium is as strong as steel but half the weight, and is corrosion-resistant. However, the high cost of controlling contamination during production makes the metal too expensive for most industries.

The Light Metals Flagship is already developing technologies aimed at halving the cost of producing titanium and its alloys, including production of titanium alloy powders and low-temperature compaction of powders to form thin sheet or complex shapes. This new research partnership will contribute to those technological capabilities.

"The direct powder route involves fewer processing steps and less material wastage than current melt and wrought processes," says Research Director of the Centre of Excellence, Professor Barry Muddle.

"Reducing the cost of production is the key to opening up broader markets for titanium and titanium alloys.

"Through this coordinated effort, we will be able to join forces with the CSIRO Light Metals Flagship in laying the foundation for a titanium metals industry in Australia."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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