Design and Manufacturing of Ultrahigh Temperature Refractory Alloys

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University Park, Pennsylvania
Project Term:
05/14/2021 - 11/30/2023

Critical Need:

Gas turbines produce approximately 35% of the total electricity generation in the U.S. Improving their efficiency is important for reducing energy usage and carbon emissions. Similarly, higher efficiency aviation and other industrial turbines would improve the economics and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in these sectors. Gas turbine efficiency largely depends on the gas temperature at the inlet; the higher the temperature, the higher the efficiency. Gas turbine operational temperature is currently limited by its component materials, particularly those in the path of the hot gas such as turbine blades, vanes, nozzles, and shrouds. Turbine blades experience the greatest operational burden because they must concurrently withstand the highest temperatures and stresses. Currently, turbine blades are made of single crystal nickel (Ni)- or cobalt (Co)-based superalloys. After many years of refinements, their development has plateaued. There is a need to discover, develop, and implement novel materials that work at temperatures significantly higher than that of the Ni or Co superalloys if further efficiency gains are to be realized.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Pennsylvania State University (PSU) will develop an integrated computational and experimental framework for the design and manufacturing of ULtrahigh TEmperature Refractory Alloys (ULTERAs). PSU will generate alloy property data through high-throughput computational and machine learning models; design ULTERAs through a neural network inverse design approach; manufacture the designed alloys utilizing field assisted sintering technology and/or additive manufacturing; and demonstrate the performance through systematic characterization in collaboration with industry. The proposed platform, with a sustainable data ecosystem, could create fundamentally new approaches to understand and design a new generation of materials and provide pathways to improve existing materials to meet performance requirements. Extensive industrial collaborations in manufacturing and property measurements of ULTERA designs will promote the wide adoption of this project’s approaches. The open source platform can unify knowledge on high temperature materials and promote broad collaborations among experts in academic research and manufacturing.

Potential Impact:

Combining development of new ultrahigh temperature materials with compatible coatings and manufacturing technologies has the potential to increase gas turbine efficiency up to 7%, which will significantly reduce wasted energy and carbon emissions.


Coal-fired and nuclear-powered plant electricity generation is uneconomical, unsafe, outdated, and/or contributes to significant CO2 emissions. Increasing gas turbine efficiency is critical to ensuring that plants can effectively deploy their capacity to the grid, increasing energy security.


Improving gas turbine efficiency can significantly reduce carbon emissions from air travel, which represents 2% of all global carbon emissions.


By 2050, a 7% efficiency improvement in the natural gas turbines used for U.S. electricity generation could save up to 15-16 quads of energy; in civilian aircraft turbines, 3-4 quads of energy could be saved for U.S. air travel.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Philseok Kim
Project Contact:
Prof. Zi-Kui Liu
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