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PERSPECTIVES

Cray-2 supercomputer used liquid immer- tion of the collected thermal energy becomes 2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Report to
sion cooling (10). feasible, either using synergies with district Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency
(2007).
Recently, chilled-liquid cooling was rein- heating or specific industrial applications. 3. European Commission, Code of Conduct on Data Centres
troduced in high-end mainframes and densely With such an appealing waste-heat recovery Energy Efficiency (2008).
packed servers to cope with the high heat system, the green diligence of data centers 4. International Technology Roadmap for Semiconduc-
tors, 2009 Edition, Executive Summary; www.itrs.net/
fluxes. Yet, liquid cooling can be taken further would be upped substantially. Links/2009ITRS/Home2009.htm.
if we consider a microfluidic heat sink (11) Reducing the energy consumption of 5. K. Mistry et al., IEEE IEDM 2007 Tech. Digest, 10.2
(see the figure, panel C). Microchannel heat data centers and concomitantly restrain- (2007).
6. M. Chudzik et al., IEEE VLSI 2007 Tech. Digest, 11A-1
sinks can be designed such that the thermal ing costs, while curtailing carbon emis-
(2007).
resistance between the transistor and the fluid sion, is achievable. Despite power dissipa- 7. N. A. Kurd et al., IEEE ISSCC 2010 Tech. Digest, 5.1
is reduced to the extent that even cooling- tion in microprocessors continuing to be (2010).
water temperatures of 60° to 70°C ensure no a source of severe concern, liquid cooling 8. M. Ware et al., IEEE HPCA 2010 Tech. Digest, 6.4 (2010).
9. L. A. Barroso, U. Hölzle, The Datacenter as a Computer
overheating of the microprocessors. This hot- and deploying waste heat appear to become (Morgan and Claypool, 2009); www.google.com/
water cooling has compelling advantages. imperative in the drive for improving the corporate/green/datacenters.
First, chillers are no longer required year- data-center energy efficiency. 10. S. R. Cray Jr., U.S. Patent 4590538 (1986).
11. D. B. Tuckerman, R. F. W. Pease, Electron Device Lett. 2,
round and thus the data-center energy con-
References 126 (1981).
sumption plummets by up to 50%. Second, 1. International Data Corporation, Document No. 221346

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and perhaps most important, direct utiliza- (2009), www.idc.com. 10.1126/science.1182769

MATERIALS SCIENCE
Despite advances made in composite materials,

The Future of Metals metals remain irreplaceable in many important


applications.
K. Lu

O
n 15 December 2009, the world’s concern. Some metals such as aluminum and with extraordinary mechanical properties
most fuel-efficient commercial jet- magnesium are light, but they are too soft for (3). When a high density of twin boundaries
liner—the Boeing 787 Dreamliner— many applications and have low toughness (highly symmetrical interfaces between two
completed its first flight. The airliner is mostly and stiffness. Titanium alloys partly over- grains of the same lattice structure) is incor-
made from carbon fiber–reinforced poly- come these problems: They are about half as porated into polycrystalline copper grains,
meric composites (50% by weight, up from dense as steels, have higher strength, and are with boundary spacing in the nanometer scale,
12% in the Boeing 777) (1). Traditional met- very tough. Titanium was first used in airlin- the material becomes stronger than coarse-
als are substantially replaced by composites ers in the 1960s in the Boeing 707 and its use grained copper by a factor of 10; it is also
with higher strength/weight ratios; aluminum has increased to 15% in the Boeing 787 (1). very ductile. The ultrastrong nanotwinned
usage has dropped to 20% (versus 50% in Metals can be strengthened through con- copper has an electrical conductivity com-
the 777). Ever since the 1950s, when “engi- trolled creation of internal defects and bound- parable to that of high-conductivity copper
neering materials” mainly meant metals (2), aries that obstruct dislocation motion (3). (6) and a much enhanced resistance against
the share of metals in engineering materials But such strategies compromise ductility and electromigration (7). It has great potential for
has been diminishing. What are the reasons toughness, in contrast to the increasing tough- applications in microelectronics.
behind this trend, and which applications are ness at higher strength seen with polymeric Corrosion is another headache for metals
likely to stay in the domain of metals? composites (see the figure). Strengthening (8). To protect metals from corrosion, they
The main property limitation of metals may also compromise other metal properties, are commonly coated with a layer of corro-
as structural materials is their low specific such as conductivity and corrosion resistance. sion-resistant material. The Hangzhou Bay
strength (the strength/weight ratio). Most One method for strengthening metals without Bridge in China is an outstanding example of
engineering designs call for structural materi- losing toughness is grain refinement (grain this technique. This 36-km-long bridge—the
als that have high strength, fracture toughness size reduction), but when the grain sizes fall world’s longest to date, with a design life of
(a measure of the energy required for propa- below ~1 µm, strengthening is usually accom- 100 years—is supported by several thousand
gating cracks), and stiffness while minimiz- panied by a drop in ductility and toughness pillars made of concrete-filled steel tubes ~80
ing weight. Most metals have high strength (4). A recent study points the way to overcom- m in length. The tubes are protected against
and stiffness, but because they are dense ing this problem: In a low-alloy steel contain- corrosion in the harsh ocean environment
(steels are several times as dense as ceram- ing ultrafine elongated ferrite grains strength- by a coating of novel polymeric composites
ics and polymers), their strength/weight and ened with nanosized carbides, toughness and combined with cathode attachments.
stiffness/weight ratios are low relative to strength both rose when temperature was low- Metal corrosion can also be resisted by
competing materials (see the figure). This is a ered from 60° to –60°C (5). In contrast, con- forming a continuous protective passiva-
key reason for replacing metals in aircraft and ventional metals become strong but brittle at tion layer on the metal surface. For example,
sporting goods, where weight is a primary lower temperatures. The authors attributed the Yamamoto et al. (9) have added 2.5% Al to
observed toughening to the unique hierarchi- conventional austenitic stainless steels, result-
Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science, Insti-
cal anisotropic nanostructures in their steels. ing in the formation of a protective aluminum
tute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanotwinned metals are another exam- oxide layer that can resist further oxidation at
Shenyang 110016, China. E-mail: lu@imr.ac.cn ple of hierarchical nanostructured metals elevated temperatures. Given their enhanced

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PERSPECTIVES

300 Competing materials. Steels have the


highest toughness, whereas carbon fibers
have the highest strengths. Titanium alloys
and polymer composites are increasingly
250 used in aircraft and sporting goods because
of their outstanding combination of prop-
erties. Research on advanced materials
for structural applications aims toward the
Fracture toughness, KIc (MPa m1/2)

200 upper right corner. [Data from (2)]


Steels

magnetic properties that are not easily


reproduced in other materials.
150
Fourth, metals have the best over-
all mechanical properties at tempera-
tures up to a few hundred degrees. This
100
window covers most of the operation
Ni alloys
Ti alloys
temperatures in chemical engineering
processes, power stations, and various

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Cu engines. Finally, most metals are recy-
Engineering
50 alloys clable, making metals more competi-
polymeric
tive for quantity applications.
composites
Al alloys Modern technologies not only
Polymers
Mg alloys Carbon fibers strongly rely on these unique prop-
Ceramics
0 erties of metals, but urgently call for
0 100 200 300 400 1000 2000 even better metals. Increasing the
Strength-to-weight ratio (MPa cm3 g–1) strength of metals without sacrificing
other properties is critical for their
oxidation resistance, these steels could be components with the highest requirements competitiveness. Multiscale hierarchical
used at the high temperatures and aggres- for reliability and durability, such as bridge structures provide a possible route to opti-
sive oxidizing conditions of energy conver- cables, concrete reinforcement in buildings, mizing overall properties. Metals may also
sion systems to replace the currently used and vehicle body frames. The Boeing 787 be mixed with other materials in a controlled
expensive nickel-based superalloys (metals contains a considerable amount of metals way to form composite structures. Assem-
specifically developed for high-temperature (45%), mainly in critical parts with the high- bling metals with other components in this
applications). Another route to enhancing the est reliability requirements, such as engines, way—for example, in novel reinforcements
corrosion resistance of metals is to modify wings, and alighting carriage. or hierarchical assemblies—may shift their
the chemical composition of surface layers. Second, the properties of metals are uni- strength/toughness ratios toward the upper
But most such processes require high tem- form in all directions, and their strength is right corner in the figure. Developments in
peratures that may cause serious deteriora- the same in tension and compression. Also, different material families may thus benefit
tion of the metal substrates. The processing the strengths of metals are usually predict- from each other.
temperatures can be lowered substantially if able. These features are critically impor-
the grains of surface layers are refined into tant for predicting fracture in engineer- References and Notes
1. 787 Dreamliner Program Fact Sheet (Boeing Corp.,
the nanoscale via surface mechanical attri- ing structures. In contrast, it remains very 2007; see www.boeing.com/commercial/787family/
tion treatments (10). difficult to predict fracture of composites programfacts.html).
Metals also get soft at elevated tem- and ceramics; their fracture is often cata- 2. M. F. Ashby, Materials Selection in Mechanical Design
peratures; they can rarely be used above strophic (the material fails all at once) and (Elsevier, Oxford, ed. 3, 2005).
3. K. Lu, L. Lu, S. Suresh, Science 324, 349 (2009).
1000°C with useful strengths. Superalloys may cause serious economic loss and even 4. M. A. Meyers, A. Mishra, D. Benson, Prog. Mater. Sci. 51,
have higher operating temperatures (up to loss of life. Hence, many advanced technol- 427 (2006).
~1150°C for nickel-based superalloys), ogies continue to rely on high-performance 5. Y. Kimura, T. Inoue, F. Yin, K. Tsuzaki, Science 320, 1057
(2008).
enabling their use in high-temperature metals. For instance, only extremely tough 6. L. Lu, Y. Shen, X. Chen, L. Qian, K. Lu, Science 304, 422
applications such as jet turbine engines. metal alloys can survive in the harsh irra- (2004).
Superalloys for higher operating tempera- diation and temperature conditions in the 7. K.-C. Chen, W.-W. Wu, C.-N. Liao, L.-J. Chen, K. N. Tu,
Science 321, 1066 (2008).
tures, based on metals with higher melting next generation of nuclear power stations.
8. A. King, G. Johnson, D. Engelberg, W. Ludwig, J. Marrow,
points such as molybdenum and niobium, Body implants must sustain severe corro- Science 321, 382 (2008).
are under investigation (11). sive and loading conditions that also call for 9. Y. Yamamoto et al., Science 316, 433 (2007).
Despite these limitations, metals are still advanced tough metals. 10. X. Si, B. N. Lu, Z. B. Wang, J. Mater. Sci. Technol. 25, 433
(2009).
the major workhorse of our society and will Third, most metals are more conductive 11. J. H. Perepezko, Science 326, 1068 (2009).
remain so in the future, thanks to unique than ceramics and polymers. Copper and alu- 12. I thank C. W. Che, R. B. Tan, and R. Yang for their critical
properties that make them irreplaceable. minum remain the best materials for overhead comments; Y. Zhang for assistance in figure preparation;
and the National Natural Science Foundation of China,
First, metals have a much higher fracture electricity transmission lines. Conducting the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Danish-
toughness than other materials (see the fig- lines and thermal spreaders used in informa- Chinese Center for Nanometals for financial support.
ure); steels are the toughest known materials. tion technology are mostly made from cop-
Therefore, metals are usually used for key per and its alloys. Metals also have unique 10.1126/science.1185866

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