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Power Science

'Super Steel' Sought For Fusion Reactors 421

Smivs writes "New research shows how steel will fail at high temperatures because of the magnetic properties of the metal. Scientists say an understanding of how the Twin Towers collapsed will help them develop the materials needed to build fusion reactors. The New York buildings fell when their steel backbones lost strength in the fires that followed the plane impacts. Dr Sergei Dudarev told the British Association Science Festival that improved steels were now being sought. The principal scientist at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) said one of the first applications for these better performing metals would be in the wall linings of fusion reactors."
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'Super Steel' Sought For Fusion Reactors

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  • by maniac/dev/null ( 170211 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @07:59AM (#24960023) Homepage

    ...it will be only the third time that fire has melted steel.

    • Huh? Is this a 9/11 conspiracy thing?

      • by kcelery ( 410487 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:20AM (#24960211)

        Yes, this is could be.

        The Twin Tower is built like a metal tube. So if it fails, it should fail in dignity, fail like a metal tube. But on that mighty day, PUFF (note: not flame). A metal tube turned into a pile of crackers.

        Hell, tensile strength, bending moment, grain boundary, finite element... all thrown out of the window, because it was hit by black magic.

        Where is my toad?

        • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @09:24AM (#24960895)

          What do you mean, 'black magic'? A tube can be filled and if it is filled, when you fly your plane in, it gets in line and it's going to be destroyed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of fuel, enormous amounts of fuel.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by maz2331 ( 1104901 )

            It's been known for thousands of years that steel becomes soft and easily worked at high temperatures.

            That's why blacksmiths always heat the iron orange-hot when making horseshoes. It's a lot easier to bend and form.

    • Funny, I don't remember the NIST report saying that the steel MELTED, just that it weakened to the point of collapse.
  • Up Next (Score:4, Funny)

    by meist3r ( 1061628 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:02AM (#24960053)
    Ceramics Compound Steel with NanoMesh stabilizing support. Or a couple of layers of transparent aluminium ... oh wait, we ain't supposed to have that yet.
    • Re:Up Next (Score:5, Funny)

      by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:46AM (#24960439)

      You'd invent more stuff if you used your computer mouse instead of talking to it.

    • Scientists say an understanding of how the Twin Towers collapsed will help them develop the materials needed to build fusion reactors.

      For a second there I was ready to applaud Frodo for taking down Bara-Dur [wikipedia.org] and the Ents for taking Isengard [wikipedia.org] in the interests of science.

      Then I realized it was "Twin Towers" and not "Two Towers".


      • Tolkien never specifically mentioned which of the many towers in Middle Earth were the two towers of The Two Towers. I always pictured it as being Minas Tirith and Minas Ithil, the towers on either side of the Gap of Rohan because that's the only place where there were two towers, and one was controlled by the good team, and one by the bad team.
  • by VShael ( 62735 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:03AM (#24960065) Journal

    Would the fact that we've learned something new about steel thanks to the way the Twin Towers fell, silence the conspiracy lovers?

    No, of course not. What the hell was I thinking there?

    • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:17AM (#24960183) Journal

      Would the fact that we've learned something new about steel thanks to the way the Twin Towers fell, silence the conspiracy lovers?

      No, of course not. What the hell was I thinking there?

      Well, we're getting WAY off topic from the original story here but people deal with loss differently. Some Americans have a near psychotic desire to be a part of bringing justice to those responsible. 9/11 affected us all in different ways. From losing loved ones to losing a sense of security to losing our rights, everyone believes they've lost something.

      I listened to a This American Life episode where a man whose mother was raped and killed spent a large part of his life going over what had happened. He even went so far as to go to the jail and interview one of the murderers. He was so convinced there was more to it than just a random robbery gone wrong.

      The "Truthers" (as they call themselves) are trying to cope with this in a unique way where they will relentlessly seek the truth--to a fault. They won't ever be satisfied because the attacks were so inconceivable that there must be an equally outrageous explanation for them. Occam's Razor is not in their reasoning kit anymore.

      Personally, I think we just need to let them have their community and leave them alone and give them the information they need. You can't change the way these people think and as Americans they have this right to believe what they want--so long as they don't go infringing on other people's life, liberty & pursuit of happiness.

      Following World War II, the public's imagination has gone wild from JFK's assassination to 9/11. It's simply something that can no longer be avoided.

      • As always, conspiracies are just a conspiracy to get people to believe in conspiracies. Did you know 9/11 wasn't an inside job?

      • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:51AM (#24960471)

        The "Truthers" (as they call themselves) are trying to cope with this in a unique way where they will relentlessly seek the truth--to a fault. They won't ever be satisfied because the attacks were so inconceivable that there must be an equally outrageous explanation for them. Occam's Razor is not in their reasoning kit anymore.

        Nonsense. The "truthers" are not seeking the truth in any way, shape, or form. All they are "seeking" is ways to warp the facts beyond recognition to support their neurotic preconception.

        Seeking truth is what science and religion are about. They have different ways of judging it. I suppose one could make the case that the truthers are a bizarre, benighted, and perverse form of cult, but they are in no sense scientists.

    • We haven't learned anything new about steel - this has been know for....as long as there has been fire codes and steel buildings.

      The fact that conspiracy theorist choose to ignore widely known properties of steel and steel construction doesn't make this news relevant.

      I also find this article slightly distasteful...9/11 has nothing to do with the search for new steels; there are plenty of varieties of steel with all sorts of different properties - maybe this physicist should go and speak with a engineer or m

    • by raddan ( 519638 )
      Unfortunately, the softening of the metal in the Twin Towers have absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the article. It's just attention-grabbing. The mechanisms for deformation of steel suspected in the WTC collapse were already well-known (thermoplasticity), and evidence of some heating was confirmed in NIST's final report [nist.gov] on the WTC tower collapses in 2005. Interestingly, NIST says that primary event causing the deformation is unknown:

      Throughout this report, it should be recognized that while t

    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      Would the fact that we've learned something new about steel thanks to the way the Twin Towers fell

      Nothing "new" was learnt. You didn't know that hot steel gets softer?

      As TFA says:

      "[The steel] becomes very soft. It is not melting but the effect is the same," said Dr Dudarev. He said blacksmiths had exploited this property for hundreds of years - it allows iron to become pliable at temperatures much lower than its melting point.

      It was just irresistible for the journalists to gratuitously link this to the

      • by Tenebrousedge ( 1226584 ) <tenebrousedgeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 11, 2008 @10:45AM (#24962195)

        I must apologize for not responding to the main of your argument, but in truth I have no quarrel with most what you say. The point at which I take exception is your reference to the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings as an act of war.

        The attacks of 11 September 2001 were criminal acts, not a deliberate attack by a sovereign nation. They were not accompanied by a declaration of war, and there is no reason to believe that any sovereign nation was involved in the planning or execution of these attacks.

        The terrorist attacks were a monstrous crime, truly an enormity. However, they can no more be considered an act of war than the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

        That we, the citizens of the United States, have allowed these to be a justification for a much more costly and brutal conflict is a thousand times more abhorrent. Indeed, it is tens of thousands of times more vile, for we have killed tens of thousands more people in Iraq and Afghanistan than were harmed in the attacks here.

        It is generally agreed that the overall course of human history has been one of progress from barbarism to civilization. Let us not now desert that course! We cannot undo the terrible evil that has been caused by our complicity, but let each of us strive to end this war, so that we may begin reparations for the depravity that has been done in our name. For I believe it to be true, that we shall not regain any rights that we do not deserve.


    • We didn't learn anything new. Whatever story you choose to believe, the only facts are that two planes flew into two of the strongest buildings on the planet, and then they crumbled like a house of cards. Structural failure, insider job, whatever; the only thing that could have provided any answers was scooped up and shipped off to China.

      With all the evidence gone, all the rest is at best theories. And theories won't help you build any reactors.

    • We sure have learned something. Don't let the shadow government agents sneak around the fusion reactors or they will try to force the steel to fail to create severely public drama in order to get the sheeple to buy in to their next secret conquest.

  • everyone knows all you have to do is strip a gundam and you can have all the super steel you would ever need.
  • by ObitMan ( 550793 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:08AM (#24960103) Journal

    "Steel isn't strong, boy. Flesh is stronger. Look around you." Thulsa motions to some of the thousands of followers surrounding his mountain who worship him as the mouthpiece of Set. He points up to the top of a cliff, "There, on the rocks, that beautiful girl." He motions to the girl, "Come to me, my child." The girl steps off the cliff and falls to her death. "That is strength, boy. That is power: the strength and power of flesh. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength of your body, the desire in your heart. I gave you these...."

  • by Ceriel Nosforit ( 682174 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:09AM (#24960115)

    The highest performing 'steel' currently seems to be what's called '"maraging steel', but calling it steel seems a bit odd since the alloy contains next to no carbon.

    Tungsten is a lot tougher than just about any steel, and it's often used the coating alloys of for example drill bits used in industrial CNC applications.

    The point of this article eludes me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, tungsten (pure) is not very thought. You can drill it and cut it with standard tools. Tungsten-carbide alloy is really thought.
      I know because pure tungsten is used to stop radioactivity (it's 50% better than lead), and I work on that field.

    • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @10:12AM (#24961605) Journal

      The point of this article eludes me.

      You aren't the only one. If you want something that can retain it's strength at high temperatures, don't use steel. I recommend some sort of engineered ceramic, [wikipedia.org] like tungsten carbide [wikipedia.org] (which I believe is what you meant).

      The article seems to ignore the fact that engineers see steel becoming weaker with heat as a benefit. If steel was always super strong at any temperature, how would you make anything out of it? Engineers currently utilize the "irregularities" (we call them dislocations) in steel to manufacture things. One such process is known as work hardening. [wikipedia.org] When certain materials, like steel, are formed (bent, rolled, etc.) at low temperature, the dislocations propagate and move. The dislocations interact with each other, like tangling up a ball of yarn, making the material stronger. The component can then be heated to make further manufacturing easier, or left in it's cold worked state to make the finished part stronger. This property of steel is utilized around the world to make very strong, and inexpensive parts. A variety of other heat treatments [wikipedia.org] are available to perform similar tasks.

      In summary, the thermal properties of steel are considered a asset, because it allows us to manufacture things with high strength inexpensively. Using a material that is strong at all temperatures will increase costs. Such materials do exist but steel isn't one of them.

      Disclaimer: If you find anything above factually incorrect, I was a C student in material science.

      • by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @12:12PM (#24963811)

        What you say is largely true, but for nuclear applications you usually have a few more constraints that make steel look more attractive again.

        The core of a fast breeder reactor, or the structural components of a fusion reactor, will unavoidably be exposed to a very intense flux of high energy neutrons. These neutrons can cause all kinds of defects in the material you use, ranging from dislocating atoms to changing their elements due to nuclear transmutations, and whatever material you use must be able to withstand the irradiation. Many nickel alloys fail for this reason.

        Also any material which absorbs a lot of neutrons, or reduces their energy, is going to cause issues. If you use Nitrogen in a ceramic it may need to be enriched to prevent excessive Carbon-14 production as an example. Some elements, like Lithium, Cobalt and Bismuth, produce very troublesome radioactive isotopes when irradiated. Carbon is quite good, and carbon based ceramics are heavily researched, but it is a rather light nucleus, and will slow neutrons that scatter against it. This may be desirable in a thermal reactor, but for fusion reactors and fast breeder reactors you want a very high neutron energy to enable the destruction of long lived waste isotopes, and this means you need to limit the amount of carbon present in your core and structural materials.

        Furthermore materials to be used for a reactor need to go through very time consuming and thorough testing program , and this is why steels are very attractive candidates since much of the necessary data already exists. Sure, using something like Silicon Carbide may be worth investigating ( and it is indeed being investigated for a number or reactor designs ) , but even thou it has good thermal conductivity, corrosion resistance and thermal stability, it is not immediately clear that it will withstand the radiation environment, it's fracture hardness is less than ideal, and you need to be able to reliably produce it to the strict standards required by the nuclear industry. To develop and test a material for nuclear applications is a very expensive procedure, so if you can use materials that you already have data for, it will dramatically reduce the necessary research and development costs.

        Also, as usual there is a cost issue of the material itself. Tungsten, with its high melting point, good strength at elevated temperatures, and low neutron absorption is very attractive from technological aspects, but building an entire reactor from it will hurt your bank account.

  • Irony if this works. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:14AM (#24960155)

    If it worked and we can make Fusion Reactors. This would leave some irony to the terrorist.

    The Terrist may think they won because once we go Fusion we won't need to protect our oil interests thus mostly ignoring that area of the world, except for the occasional humanitarian mission, thus reducing our influcene in their countries...
    However because we are not funding those countries with money they end up bankrupt in far more trouble then with the US involved.

    When the Terrorist actually win they loose, because their goals will lead to their destruction.

    • Steel ... Irony ... boom tish

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      In the meantime, they win as their actions remain a strong electoral argument 7 years after the facts and that they still scare people.
    • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
      Terrorists don't need to "win". They just like fucking people over. If the US had ignored the middle east in the first place, then there would be no problem now. Instead there is a long history of the US interfering in others affairs to suit their own interests. Oil is just one example.
      I don't think the terrorists see much of the oil revenue, so bankruptcy for their home nations won't do anything but piss them off even more. The terrorists are the top of a pyramid of opinion, disposing of them doesn
  • Complete lies! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 )

    Everyone knows steel doesn't lose strength when heated up, it's magic and goes from being a full strength solid to instantly being melted into a liquid at 1500C!

    Haven't the 9/11 conspiracy theorists taught these scientists anything???

  • by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:19AM (#24960197)
    I know they produce stylish, compact and inexpensive wall-linings for fusion reactors, but the self-assembly is a fucking nightmare, and you always end up spending at least fifty quid on candles too.
  • Good LUCK! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:22AM (#24960225) Homepage

    It is not as if high strength hasn't always been sought after in steels (iron-carbon alloy). INcluding high temperature strength. The usual solution is various nickel alloys starting with the austenitic stainless steels and going up from there (HK-40, HP modified).

    Yes, we may yet find some interesting corners on phase diagrams, especially via combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput experiementation. But please do not pretent this search is anything remotely novel.

    For many high temperature applications, the usual solution is cold wall designs with refractory (insulating alumina) linings keeping the load bearing steels cool. With or without a (thermal expansion problematic) liner (usually austenitic SS) as a membrane seal.

  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:24AM (#24960243) Journal

    Scientists say an understanding of how the Twin Towers collapsed will help them develop the materials needed to build fusion reactors.

    Steel is used so widely, in large part, because it's cheap... Iron is one of the most abundant elements on the planet. Many other materials exist that are stronger than steel, lighter than steel, handle MUCH higher temperatures, etc., etc.

    For a fusion reactor, however, "cheap" isn't going to be all that important... More exotic materials that can better handle high temperatures would be easily within reach when you're able to generate that much power.

    The article completely fails to explain why we, for some reason, MUST use some (not-yet invented) form of "steel" for the walls of fusion reactors. Boron Carbide, Tungsten, titanium, etc., sound like much better options for this application. While this article sounds like a flimsy excuse to exploit this anniversary.

    • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @09:11AM (#24960703)

      Iron is one of the most abundant elements on the planet.

      Actually iron is less abundant than aluminum, but it has the advantage of being readily mined, refined, and made into structural steel.

      The earth's crust is 61% silica, 16% alumina, 7% rust (iron oxide component of iron ore), 6% line, 5% magnesia, and 5% other stuff. The reason aluminum alloy does not predominate in the structures we build has more to do with the difficulty of smelting, refining, alloying, and heat treating it than its suitability. The mirror image is the great ease of producing ready to use steel I-beams from raw iron ore.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by najmurphy ( 1081077 )
      After a tour I was given of the MIT Tokamak, the professor indicated that the problem with fusion reactors wasn't heat, or even fusion. it was neutrons.

      Apprently, the reactor is flooded with neutrons during the fusion 'events', and over time it will turn whatever 'steel' the reactor cell is made of into a porous sponge, that may collapse. If it didn't (maybe engineered to stay standing while highly porous) it would be next to impossible to dispose of the neutron-bombarded material.

      He indicated that t
  • Mythril (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord Lode ( 1290856 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:38AM (#24960381)
    Steel just isn't good enough, something like a fusion reactor needs more Magical metals, for example they could look into using Mythril or Adamantite for getting some super strong metal walls...
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @08:43AM (#24960413)
    At the moment its like saying "this will be really useful for when I genetically engineer a dragon".
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Thursday September 11, 2008 @09:05AM (#24960629) Homepage Journal

    Aren't the magnetic fields in a Tokamak pretty intense? As in, you wouldn't want something ferromagnetic inside?

    I thought the leading candidate was vanadium, for its low neutron capture cross section and quickly decaying activation products.

  • I think you need Rearden metal. -=rsw

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