Many components made of alloys are subjected to enormous mechanical and thermal loads. Usually, these components can be tested prior to their application and thus be constructed in a safe and cost-efficient way. Unfortunately, there is one phenomenon, which is very difficult to assess experimentally: creep of alloys. Creep is the slow irreversible deformation of a material under high temperature and mechanical loads. Creep can be a significant problem, for example for steam pipes and –boilers in thermal power plants or for turbines. Sooner or later the deformation gets too severe for safe operation, and the components can literally explode. This is not only expensive due to repairs and disruption of production, but can endanger the life of people.
Since creep deformation is extremely slow, lab tests can take many years, and the development and improvement of materials becomes tedious. As a consequence, currently used standard materials in thermal power plants have been introduced in the 1950s – 80s. The materials work – but they are inefficient. With new developments, the working temperatures could be raised, leading to higher efficiency, less fuel consumption and lower CO2 emission.
The topic of the project is the modelling and simulation of creep. As soon as creep deformation can be simulated with sufficient accuracy, lab tests can be cancelled for the better part – and simulations are faster. However, there are two problems. First: creep is extremely complex and difficult to handle. Second: most common models on creep are unreliable and work only under significant confinements; usually a lab test is inevitable (again) in order to tune the simulation towards reality.
Nevertheless, there are many good models for partial aspects of the creep process. This is the point where the project sets in: these sub-models are collected and translated into a uniform “language”. This helps identifying contradicting theories, find gaps and replace them, and combine the bits and pieces into one single network. Each contribution must be physically justified in order to guarantee the predictability of the network. The model network is then coded as “glass box” software for computer simulations. With this software, users can then easily apply the state of the art (plus the progress achieved within the project) without digging into literature by themselves.
The software is then made available for the scientific community and will contribute to accelerate the scientific progress in creep modelling. The development of new materials can be carried out faster, the safety of component can be estimated with better reliability, and technological solutions for higher energy efficiency can be achieved sooner. At the end of the day, the project safes time, money, resources, energy, improves safety and counteracts the greenhouse effect.