An analysis of the grain refinement of magnesium by zirconium
A Design of Experiments (DOE) approach was used to conduct a systematic study of the grain refinement of magnesium by zirconium; variables included the amount of zirconium, the pouring temperature, and the settling time prior to casting. Samples were poured into a special "hockey puck" mold designed to reproduce the conditions in permanent mold casting. Optical and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was utilized to measure the grain size in the final microstructure. Sample dissolution followed by SEM was used to characterize zirconium particle size and morphology both in the master alloy and grain refined samples, while an AccuSizer 770 Photozone/Light Obscuration instrument was used to measure total particle size distributions in the master alloy and grain refined samples. Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) was used to identify particles that likely act as suitable heterogeneous nucleation sites for grain refinement. The TEM results show that a range of particle sizes are likely substrates and that only zirconium particles which are faceted are likely nucleation sites. It is apparent that only 1 to 3% of the total particles serve as nucleation sites, but a comparison of the grain density vs. faceted particle density shows close agreement. Equal Channel Angular Extrusion (ECAE) processing of the magnesium-15wt% zirconium master alloy to increase the number of faceted particles resulted in improved grain refinement efficacy. This work suggests that there is a tremendous potential to engineer a more efficient grain refiner.