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U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

by Greg Klein | November 26, 2018

Researchers hail it as the material most similar to vibranium, the wondrous substance associated with the land of Wakanda and Captain America’s shield—except that this stuff actually exists outside of comic books, movies and games.

U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

A real-life Captain America would find himself
depending on geopolitical rivals. (Image: U.S. Army)

Described as a “super-strong alloy of copper and tantalum that can withstand extreme impact and temperature,” it was concocted by boffins from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Arizona State University.

Its features could prove useful in space exploration, weaponry, and protection for soldiers and military vehicles, said Kristopher Darling, a materials scientist with ARL.

The alloy’s strength and conductivity offer possibilities for other metals too. “Materials based on iron or aluminum for instance could be used for protection and lethality applications,” he added.

The copper-tantalum alloy “can withstand high rates of impact and temperatures in excess of 80% of their melting point, which is higher than 1,073 kelvin or greater than 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit, with very little change in its microstructure,” ARL explained.

U.S. military’s new super-alloy would increase American dependence on a critical metal

The new alloy’s fictional competition.
(Image: Natural Resources Canada)

The multidisciplinary team developed the new alloy originally to replace copper-beryllium. Although that alloy’s also known for its strength, conductivity, hardness and resistance to corrosion, exposure to beryllium can cause a serious lung condition.

Should the new alloy prove a practical substitute, it would also substitute one critical metal for another. Both beryllium and tantalum can be found in a list of 35 critical minerals drafted by the U.S. last February and confirmed in May.

Although the U.S. holds about 60% of the world’s known beryllium resources, the country relies entirely on imports for tantalum, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

American president Donald Trump has called for a national strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on critical minerals from potentially hostile or unstable jurisdictions.

Read more about U.S. efforts to secure critical minerals here and here.

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