Low-carbon advanced nanostructured steels: Microstructure, mechanical properties, and applications

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  • ReceivedSep 9, 2020
  • AcceptedDec 25, 2020
  • PublishedMar 17, 2021


Funded by

the CityU Grant(9360161)


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51801169), Hong Kong Research Grant Council (CityU Grant 9360161, 9042635, 9042879), and the internal funding from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU 9380060).

Interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Contributions statement

Kong HJ and Liu CT wrote the manuscript; Liu CT and Jiao ZB conceptualized the idea; Lu J and Liu CT acquired the funding.

Author information

Haojie Kong obtained his PhD degree from the City University of Hong Kong and is currently working as a postdoc researcher under the supervision of Prof. Liu CT. His research interests focus on the design, development, and application of high-strength steels.

Zengbao Jiao received his PhD degree from the City University of Hong Kong under the supervision of Prof. Liu CT. He then worked as a postdoc fellow in the same group and in Prof. Christopher A. Schuh’s group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for another year. He is currently an assistant professor of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He specializes in advanced structural materials and 3D atom probe tomography.

Jian Lu received his PhD in materials science and applied mechanics from the University of Technology of Compiegne. He is a member of the National Academy of Technologies, France, and currently the Vice-President (research and technology) of the City University of Hong Kong. He is well known for his contributions in the surface science and engineering as well as the processing and mechanical properties of advanced nanomaterials.

Chain Tsuan Liu obtained his PhD degree from Brown University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, USA, and the foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE). He is currently the University Distinguished Professor at the City University of Hong Kong. He is among the world pioneers in the field of intermetallic alloys, bulk metallic glass, nanostructured steels, and advanced high temperature alloys.


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  • Figure 1

    A comparison on the strength-ductility performances of the recently developed low-carbon advanced nanostructured steels with the conventional commercialized steels [5,6,8,9,11,13,14,18,139].

  • Figure 2

    A schematic showing the processing route of the nano-precipitate-strengthened low-carbon advanced nanostructured steels through (a) isothermal aging, (b) multi-step heat treatment, and (c) inter-phase precipitation.

  • Figure 3

    The tensile stress-strain curve of Jiao and Liu’s nanostructured steel strengthened with nanoscale coherent Cu precipitates (Fe-0.75Ni-2Cu-0.75Mn-0.3Al-2.25Cr-1Mo-0.25V-0.07Ti-0.3Si-0.01B-0.08C, wt%). The snippet view: (a) the dimples indicating ductile fracture; (b) the ferritic grains; (c) the Cu precipitates through the three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of atom probe tomography (APT) analyses. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [5]. Copyright 2013, Elsevier.

  • Figure 4

    The tensile stress-strain curve of Cu precipitate-strengthened nanostructured steel containing 8 wt% of Mn additions (Fe-8Mn-1Ni-2Cu-3Cr-1.1Si-0.8Mo-0.5Al-0.3Ti-0.11C-0.02B, wt%). The snippet views: (a, b) the multi-phase submicron-grains before test and after 5% deformation; (c, d) the phase map before test and after 5% deformation, indicating TRIP effect during deformation; (e) the nanoscale coherent Cu precipitates sitting along the grain boundaries through the 3D reconstruction of APT analyses. F: ferrite; A: austenite; Red: face-centered cubic (FCC) phase; Blue: BCC phase; Orange: hexagonal close-packed phase. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [18]. Copyright 2020, Elsevier.

  • Figure 5

    The tensile stress-strain curve of Jiao and Liu’s Fe-5Ni-1Al-3Mn advanced nanostructured steel. A huge strength increment of 540 MPa was achieved without a significant loss of ductility due to the ultrafine dispersion of high number density coherent NiAl nano-precipitates after aging at 550°C for 2 h. The snippet views: (a) the ductile fracture; (b, c) the ferritic grains before and after the 550°C/2 h aging; (d) the NiAl precipitates through the 3D reconstruction of APT analyses. AQ: as quenched. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [7]. Copyright 2015, Elsevier.

  • Figure 6

    The tensile stress-strain curve of Jiang and Lu’s advanced nanostructured steel (Fe-18Ni-3Al-4Mo-0.8Nb-0.08C-0.01B) strengthened with ultrafine dispersion of coherent NiAl nano-precipitates, as demonstrated in the snippet view. Both strength and uniform elongation were improved after aging, breaking the strength-ductility trade-off. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [8]. Copyright 2017, Springer Nature.

  • Figure 7

    (a) Dark field transmission electron microscopy image and (b) schematic diagram showing the hierarchical B2-NiAl/L21-Ni2TiAl precipitates in Song and Liaw’s nanostructured steel. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [69]. Copyright 2015, Springer Nature.

  • Figure 8

    The strength-impact toughness paradox of the HSLA-100 steel. The steel achieves its peak strength after aging at 500°C but at the minimum toughness. The impact toughness restores with aging above 600°C but at the expense of strength [80].

  • Figure 9

    The strengthening mix indicating multiple strengthening mechanisms of the advanced nanostructured steel containing Cu and Ni additions. The advanced steel is insensitive to heat treatment and can achieve YS above 1000 MPa. FM: fresh martensite; B: bainite; TM: tempered martensite; P: Cu precipitation; C: carbides; GR: grain refinement; SS: solid solution; AC: air cool; WQ: water quench. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [82]. Copyright 2019, Elsevier.

  • Figure 10

    The fractured surface of nanostructured steel containing Cu and Ni additions after aging at 600°C followed by air cooling, indicating mixed intergranular-cleavage brittle fracture. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [82]. Copyright 2019, Elsevier.

  • Figure 11

    The precipitation sequence of the Cu-rich, NiAl, and Cu/NiAl co-precipitates in the advanced nanostructured steel containing Ni, Al, and Cu additions. The upper sequence indicates Cu-rich precipitation comes before NiAl in the high-Cu and low-Ni/Al steel while the reverse is true in the low-Cu and high-Ni/Al steel. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [94]. Copyright 2016, Springer Nature.

  • Figure 12

    Cracks formed at the large primary NiAl precipitates and propagated through the hardened matrix. The fractured surface is shown in the inset. C: cracks; P: crack propagation. Reprinted with permission from Ref. [54]. Copyright 2015, Taylor and Francis.

  • Table 1   The process parameters and compositions of some recently developed low-carbon nano-precipitate-strengthened nanostructured steels

    Composition (wt%)




    Temperature (°C)

    Duration (h)

    Temperature (°C)

    Duration (h)



































































    0.1 to 2


  • Table 2   The precipitate-distribution parameters of NiAl precipitate-strengthened nanostructured steels

    Samples (wt%)

    Primary precipitates

    Secondary precipitates


    Volumefraction (%)

    Radius (nm)

    Numberdensity (m−3)

    Volumefraction (%)

    Radius (nm)

    Numberdensity (m−3)

    Liaw’s FBB-8 (Fe-6.5Al-10Ni-10Cr-3.4Mo-0.25Zr-0.005B)








    Jiang and Lu’s low misfit steel






    Jiao and Liu’s Fe-5Ni-1Al-3Mn steel