Ductile and brittle crack-tip response in equimolar refractory high-entropy alloys

Xiaoqing Li, Wei Li, Douglas L. Irving, Lajos K. Varga, Levente Vitos, Stephan Schönecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Understanding the strengthening and deformation mechanisms in refractory high-entropy alloys (HEAs), proposed as new high-temperature material, is required for improving their typically insufficient room-temperature ductility. Here, density-functional theory simulations and a continuum mechanics analysis were conducted to systematically investigate the competition between cleavage decohesion and dislocation emission from a crack tip in the body-centered cubic refractory HEAs HfNbTiZr, MoNbTaVW, MoNbTaW, MoNbTiV, and NbTiVZr. This crack-tip competition is evaluated for tensile loading and a totality of 15 crack configurations and slip systems. Our results predict that dislocation plasticity at the crack tip is generally unfavorable – although the competition is close for some crack orientations, suggesting intrinsic brittleness and low crack-tip fracture toughness in these five HEAs at zero temperature. Fluctuations in local alloy composition, investigated for HfNbTiZr, can locally reduce the resistance to dislocation emission for a slip system relative to the configuration average of that slip system, but do not change the dominant crack-tip response. In the case of single-crystal MoNbTaW, where an experimental, room-temperature fracture-toughness value is available for a crack on a {100} plane, theoretical and experimental results agree favorably. Factors that may limit the agreement are discussed. We survey the effect of material anisotropy on preferred crack tip orientations, which are found to be alloy specific. Mixed-mode loadings are found to shift the competition in favor of cleavage or dislocation nucleation, depending on crack configuration and amplified by the effect of material anisotropy on crack tip stresses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-187
Number of pages14
JournalActa Materialia
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2020


  • Density-functional theory
  • High-entropy alloys
  • Intrinsic ductility
  • Linear elastic fracture mechanics
  • Refractory metals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Metals and Alloys

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