Effects of Ca and Ce on the Microstructure and Mechanical Properties of Mg-Zn Alloys
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The effects of Ca and Ce on the precipitation behaviour and microstructural characteristics of Mg-Zn based alloys are investigated by comprehensive multi-scale characterization and analysis. The elements Ca and Ce are chosen for their potential to enhance (a) precipitation hardening and (b) alloy texture and ductility, and are examined at both alloying and microalloying (< 0.5 wt%) levels. When added individually to Mg-Zn, Ca is found to enhance precipitation, but Ce produces a generally adverse effect on the hardening response. A pre-ageing strategy is proposed to alleviate this negative effect of Ce. The highlight of this work is the double microalloying addition of Ce-Ca to Mg-Zn, as this combination and quantity proves to be the most effective at increasing the age-hardening response, and enhancing microstructural characteristics for improved ductility. Transmission electron microscopy analysis reveals the hardening increase to originate from a refined precipitate microstructure, and the formation of fine-scale basal plate precipitates. These fine precipitates form during early ageing as monolayer GP zones consisting of Ca and Zn. The formation of these GP zones is facilitated by the atomic size difference between those two solutes, and their observed tendency to co-cluster. The monolayer GP zones evolve to multi-layered forms in the peak-aged condition. These precipitates are observed to be uniformly distributed, even where apparent precipitate-free zones are observed for the Mg-Zn type phases in the grain boundary regions. Notably, the size of these precipitate-free zones for the Mg-Zn phases is also reduced in the Ce-Ca microalloyed samples, compared to the binary alloy. The Ce-Ca microalloying additions also promote grain refinement and a weakening of the basal textures, typical of conventional Mg-based alloys, compared to both Mg-Zn and Mg-Zn-Ce. As a result, the tensile behaviour of the alloys with Ce-Ca is similarly enhanced. Considering both the precipitation hardening capability and microstructural characteristics, it is concluded that the double microalloying additions of Ce-Ca can be considered as a new alloy design strategy to successfully achieve improvement in both the strength and ductility of Mg-Zn alloys.