Among other things that make recreating these materials hard, is that in cooking them you not only need to get the ingredients right, but also get the sequence correct, sometimes to the minutest detail. Impurities in parts per million or the lack of can have significant effects in determining the properties of the material. Same goes for the process of making it.
We understand properties of individual components well enough but the physics that dictates the properties of alloys is different, difficult, non-smooth and very non-linear. Statistical physics have played a huge role in trying to model these behavior.
Another historical-metallurgical curiosity is the surprisingly corrosion resistant iron pillar in Delhi. It has been out there, in the open, facing the corroding elements of tropical weather for 25 centuries, but with little or no corrosion damage.
Most materials and chemicals out there we now have a pretty darn good understanding of, thanks to being able to sit there and simulate the atomic structure of the material in the computer. But metals like steel are far too complicated since you're not just interested in hundreds or thousands of atoms at a time. To understand steel and predict its properties you need to understand all the impurities and the grain boundaries -- these things occur on scales which are far too large for simulation.
So metallurgy remains somewhat like baking a cake. We can bake all sorts of tasty cakes, but there are other cake recipes out there yet to be discovered which might taste even better and we have no idea how to get there from here. (And for this analogy to not completely break down let's just assume that "tastiness" is both objective and measurable even though it isn't...)
But we have no known method of making steel out of just those grains, it's always mixed with other weaker parts.
That's why spider silk is so incredibly strong - it's manufactured (essentially) one atom at a time.
If we could manufacture steel in the same way it would be far stronger than spider silk.
Here's a list of some of the various grains in steel:
Pearlite, Cementite, Bainite, Austenite (there are many more).
The steel making process is all about encouraging a specific type (and especially, mixture) of these grains to form. But we can do so only at low efficiency and in a random fashion.
e.g. Pearlite, which you mention, consists of two phases, cementite and ferrite. And these phases can form at the edges of grains, or within grains, depending on growth conditions.
But this isn't the important thing. The important thing is that it's meaningless to talk about how strong "single grains" can be, and how wonderful it would be if we could make large single crystals. And it's meaningless for two reasons: firstly, there are always trade-offs. If you make a large single crystal (i.e. a single grain) you'll sacrifice toughness, because cracks will be able to easily propagate straight through the crystal, without any grain boundaries to stop them. And secondly, you have entropy. Whenever you try and make a large version of something small, entropy dictates you will always have defects. This is why, for example, carbon nanotubes will never scale (which is not to say they won't be useful, they will be!) but if you try and make a centimetre long nanotube it'll be full of defects and will never, ever, be as good as a single microscopic nanotube which is almost perfect.
Anyway, the point is, there's no perfect material. No "good parts" and "bad parts," there's always a trade-off. Sometimes the "bad" parts can do very useful things. As an example, if you make a very strong steel, good luck trying to shape it into anything useful! Imagine if you have a lump of the "best" material in the world, if you can't find a chisel to carve it into something, then it's not going to do anyone any good...
And claims like those given in the parent article are always a little dubious. It's hard for people to imagine the scale of the steel industry, and I personally know of processes that are great in the lab for both steel and other metals which have wonderful efficiencies but just can't be scaled. A kg of steel should cost about the same to make as a bottle of water. If the equipment/size/energy-to-run-equipment investment is just a little too high per kg, it's not going to be useful for anyone at the kinds of scales it needs to be...
That said, despite the difficulties there has been huge progress made in the last few decades, and this might be one of them! Without more information I couldn't say (and it's not my area of expertise anyway), so I wish them luck.
That's it in a nutshell, I'm sure someone else can clarify.
Not exactly. Entropy dictates you need to add extra energy to remove the defects. Or more accurately, metal without defects has lower entropy.
That's not true, there are many materials stronger than steel:
3) Spider silk
4) Carbon nanotubes (buckypaper for instance)
5) IsoTruss carbon fiber
6) Metallic (palladium) glass
7) Transparent aluminum
It forms immediately on the surface of all aluminium that is exposed to air, and prevents the aluminium from corroding any further.
An Australian company, BHP (my employer at the time), was working on this method of steel production in the early 1990's. They had big hopes and put a lot of R&D investment in it, but were unable to commercialize it as the sheets of metal produced did not have consistent ductility and were prone to cracking.
So - the idea is not new, and the challenges of going from a concept to commercialization are serious, and were beyond the capabilities of one of the world's largest steel producers. The Bainsteel website indicates that they are still in the R&D phase. Best of luck to them, hope it works, but it is vaporware until it is on sale.
There is something about the parent article that doesn't sit entirely well with me. It might just be my inner skeptic, though.
BHP's steelmaking research in the early 90's was IMO pretty leading edge - google "BHP Project M" for example. Unfortunately, the accountants decided that there was little future in steelmaking in Australia, and spun off BHP's steelmaking arm as a separate company (OneSteel) in yr 2000. The R&D focus died off around the same time.
Back to Flash Bainite - I am not totally dissing it, since some particular combination of steel composition and time-temperature path through the alloy phase diagram might produce an especially good result. What I am saying is that analogous heat treatments have been extensively studied in the past - but not implemented commercially due to problems the researchers were unable to overcome.
* http://www.bainitesteel.com/ - the company making the product
* http://www.gizmag.com/stronger-steel-in-a-flash/18882/ - a longer and better writeup
* http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/06/flash-bainite-is-strongest-... - another writeup
Looks cool! Though not sure about the flamebait title from the original article. :)
'Cola also says his process is also environmentally friendly as it consumes less energy per kilogram of steel processed compared to traditional methods and uses water instead of oils or molten salt.'
The sensationalist title appeals to the autodidact that learned how to earn 100k+ without college through programming.
I think drawing those kinds of distinctions in headlines is unproductive and foolish.
based on a press release mentions a journal article (as does one of the write-ups linked in the reply by djcapelis).
A quick search on Google Scholar
didn't immediately turn up the new journal article, but shows that bainite has been the subject of prior literature on heat treatment of steel for a long time. What is unclear so far, based on any of the write-ups linked to from this thread, is what trade-offs in mechanical and thermal characteristics and price the variety of steel mentioned in the current press releases will have in comparison with the hundreds of existing specialized varieties of steel. What industry response there may be depends greatly on what steel characteristics particular users of steel are most interested in.
He said there's lots of legends about this material or that could be remade at the research lab my dad worked at that were not feasible to be mass produced. Process too costly, or too toxic, or maybe too dangerous when you have to make several thousand tons of it.
If my Dad had been given two weeks to just go and play at his company's lab, he could have walked out the door with Excalibur.
Any idea whether there are actual Excalibur smelters around?
EDIT: Not really sure why I got down-voted; nevertheless, I do think it's important to point out cases where patents can be applied as originally intended.
Frankly, I think that it's incredibly interesting some people don't think that this new method of producing steel is worthy of patent protection, and is a valuable discussion to have. The reasons for being against software patents usually revolve around software being reducible to math, but here that argument is not applicable.
Given that I want to know more about their reasoning, are you suggesting that in order to have this discussion I need to go to the trouble of writing a blog about this article as it relates to HN's community sentiment, submit it to HN's news feed, and cross my fingers that it makes it to the front page where the people who responded to this article might see it and contribute? That seems unnecessary and overly burdensome.
Patent law does seem to be one of those "classic flamewar topics" which I doubt anybody has anything especially new to say about. And the fact that somebody invented a new metal doesn't change the terms of the debate or provide anyone with new information, people have been inventing new metals (and things analogous to new metals) for a long time.
That was easy.
It strikes me that many of the folks who most stridently object to patent law don't actually know much about it.
It strikes me that many of the folks who defend patent law as it stands now most stridently are largely oblivious to the innovation that is being stifled by it's operation.
Perhaps you and he share the same view of the value of patent protection. Certainly, I'd be concerned about the appropriation of this technology by foreign countries with less respect for US intellectual property protections.
The easiest way to "figure out a way through all of the legal mess" is to simply license the patent. Indeed, there is no legal mess unless you're trying to get around the patent.
Patent licensing is not a zero-sum game. A patent holder will not demand unreasonable royalties. 0.1% of something is better than 1000% of $0.
You used the word repay - there's no way to be confident that a temporary monopoly will come within an order of magnitude of repayment.
Further we need to consider the destructive side-effects of these flawed attempts at compensation. Patents create an environment that stifles innovation: consider the threat of being taken down for inadvertently doing something that has a monopoly has granted on discourages both innovation and communication. Imagine applying for a patent, publishing, and only through that process discovering that you were infringing an existing patent! You need to pay lawyers lots to protect against that. And many inventors couldn't even be bothered with applying for a patent even if it were easy - many are inventing technologies because they have a problem to solve, not because they're aiming to create something thaqt will milk repayment from society.
The net beneficiaries of the patent system are business processes that are dedicated to playing that system.
Given the choice between something very complicated, expensive and unreliable (patent system), and something simple, free and also unreliable (the default - absence of patents), I opt for the latter.
One of the biggest reasons for patents was the public disclosure. If they are trade secrets instead, the inventor does not get any legal defense once the secrets are reverse engineered.
So I think it's a tough problem and society should err on the side of benefits for the inventor.
Software patents should be limited to 1 year :)
> So I think it's a tough problem and society should err on the
> side of benefits for the inventor.
There's a great book I recommend, "Against Intellectual Monopoly". It goes back to the original patent on the steam engine, and what a bad deal for innovation and innovators that was, and proceeds from there.
Making knives starting from the very scratch (that is, making their own steel to start with)
Also has additional information on it.
The title links to the mobile page of engadget for some unapparent reason.
Easy: http://www.kva.se/en/contact/Committees/Nobel-Committee-for-.... :)