A group of South Korean scientists says it's finally come up with the perfect metallurgical cocktail to create a new form of steel that's flexible, lightweight, relatively inexpensive—and as strong as titanium, Popular Mechanics reports. The South Korean study published in Nature, which is being heralded by the researchers as "one of the biggest steel breakthroughs of the last few decades," as PM puts it, claims the strength-to-weight ratio of the new steel alloy matches that of the best titanium alloys and can be made at 10% of the cost. It will also reportedly be possible to churn out the steel on a smaller scale with currently existing equipment used to make automotive-grade steel, the researchers say.
Steel is already a widespread building block, from framing out skyscrapers to its use in turbines and shipping containers. But scientists have scratched their heads for years on making it light enough for automotive and aircraft applications, as well as increasing an alloy's ductility—what Discovery describes as a material's "ability to be stretched or bent without breaking." Adding lightweight aluminum to the steel mix helps with the first issue, but scientists couldn't get around that alloy's brittleness. The Korean scientists figured out a way to separate bunched-up crystals inside the steel and spread them out so they'd be better protected from breakage. It may take awhile to transition these reported results into mass production, but steel giant POSCO is already curious enough to be planning a trial using the steel on an industrial scale, the Economist reports. (Scientists have added metal atoms to spider silk to create a super-strong web.)