Microstructural Characterization of Base Metal Alloys with Conductive Native Oxides for Electrical Contact Applications

Date of Completion

January 2011


Chemistry, Inorganic|Engineering, Materials Science




Metallic contacts are a ubiquitous method of connecting electrical and electronic components/systems. These contacts are usually fabricated from base metals because they are inexpensive, have high bulk electrical conductivities and exhibit excellent formability. Unfortunately, such base metals oxidize in air under ambient conditions, and the characteristics of the native oxide scales leads to contact resistances orders of magnitude higher than those for mating bare metal surface. This is a critical technological issue since the development of unacceptably high contact resistances over time is now by far the most common cause of failure in electrical/electronic devices and systems. To overcome these problems, several distinct approaches are developed for alloying base metals to promote the formation of self-healing inherently conductive native oxide scales. The objective of this dissertation study is to demonstrate the viability of these approaches through analyzing the data from Cu-9La (at%) and Fe-V binary alloy systems. The Cu-9 La alloy structure consists of eutectic colonies tens of microns in diameter wherein a rod-like Cu phase lies within a Cu6La matrix phase. The thin oxide scale formed on the Cu phase was found to be Cu2O as expected while the thicker oxide scale formed on the Cu6La phase was found to be a polycrystalline La-rich Cu2O. The enhanced electrical conductivity in the native oxide scale of the Cu-9La alloy arises from heavy n-type doping of the Cu2O lattice by La3+. The Fe-V alloy structures consist of a mixture of large elongated and equiaxed grains. A thin polycrystalline Fe3O4 oxide scale formed on all of the Fe-V alloys. The electrical conductivities of the oxide scales formed on the Fe-V alloys are higher than that formed on pure Fe. It is inferred that this enhanced conductivity arises from doping of the magnetite with V+4 which promotes electron-polaron hopping. Thus, it has been demonstrated that even in simple binary alloy systems one can obtain a dramatic reduction in the contact resistances of alloy oxidized surfaces as compared with those of the pure base metals. ^