There are about 100 different alloys in the Elektron range, containing from 0% to 9.5% of some of the following elements in varying proportions: aluminium (< 9.5%), yttrium (5.25%), neodymium (2.7%), silver (2.5%), gadolinium (1.3%), zinc (0.9%), zirconium (0.6%), manganese (0.5%) and other rare earth metals.
Varying amounts of alloying elements (up to 9.5%) added to the magnesium result in changes to mechanical properties such as increased tensile strength, creep resistance, thermal stability or corrosion resistance. Elektron is unusually light and has a specific gravity of about 1.8 compared with the 2.8 of aluminium alloy. Magnesium's relatively low density makes its alloy variants suitable for use in auto racing and aerospace engineering applications.
Elektron or Elektronmetall was first developed in 1908 by Gustav Pistor and Wilhelm Moschel at the Bitterfeld works of Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron (CFGE or CFG), whose HQ was in Griesheim am Main, Germany. The composition of the initial Elektron alloy was approximately Mg 90%, Al 9%, other 1%. At its pavilion at the International Air Transport Fair (Internationale Luftschiffahrt-Ausstellung, ILA) in Frankfurt am Main in 1909, CFG exhibited an Adler 75HP engine with a cast magnesium alloy crankcase. Also exhibiting at the 1909 Frankfurt Air Exhibition was August Euler (1868–1957) – owner of German pilot's licence No. 1 – who manufactured Voisin biplanes under licence in Griesheim am Main. His Voisins with Adler 50 hp engines flew in October 1909.
CFG joined the newly created IG Farben as an associate company in 1916. During the Allied Occupation after World War I, a Major Charles J. P. Ball, DSO, MC, of the Royal Horse Artillery was stationed in Germany. He later joined F. A. Hughes and Co. Ltd., which began manufacturing elektron in the UK under licence from IG Farben from around 1923.
CFG merged fully with the IG Farben conglomerate in 1925 along with Versuchsbau Hellmuth Hirth (a copper alloy manufacturer), and another company, Elektronmetall Bad Cannstatt Stuttgart, was formed. In 1935 IG Farben, ICI and F. A. Hughes and Co. (22% shares) founded Magnesium Elektron Ltd. of Clifton, Greater Manchester. The company is still manufacturing alloys in 2013.
Elektron has been used in aircraft, Zeppelins, and motor racing applications. In 1924 magnesium alloys (AZ;2,5–3,0% Al;3,0–4,0% Zn) were used in automobile pistons which were diecast by Elektronmetall Bad Cannstatt, another IG Farben company formed out of Versuchsbau Hellmuth Hirth.
Incendiary bombs using elektron were developed towards the end of the First World War by both Germany (the B-1E Elektronbrandbombe or Stabbrandbombe) and the UK. Although neither side used this type of bomb operationally during the conflict, Erich Ludendorff mentions in his memoirs a plan to bomb Paris with a new type of incendiary bomb with the aim of overwhelming the city's fire services; this planned raid was also reported in Le Figaro on 21 December 1918. The lightness of elektron meant that a large aeroplane like the Zeppelin-Staaken R-type bomber could carry hundreds of bomblets.
The German incendiary bomb weighed about 1 kg and consisted of an outer casing made of elektron alloy, which was filled with thermite pellets and fitted with a fuse. The fuse ignited the thermite which in turn ignited the magnesium casing; it burned for about fifteen minutes. Trying to douse the fire with water only intensified the reaction. It could not be extinguished and burned at such a high temperature that it could penetrate armour plate.
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- Ludendorff, Erich (1919). Mein Kriegserinnerungen 1914-1918 (My War Memoirs 1914-1918) (in German). Berlin: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn. p. 565. "Because of the gravity of our position, the Supreme Command could not hope that air-raids on London and Paris would make the enemy more disposed to sue for peace. Permission was therefore refused for the use of a particularly effective incendiary bomb, expressly designed for attacks on the two capitals, which had been produced in great quantities during the month of August (1918) and which was to have been used in the air-bombardment of the two capitals. The considerable destruction which would have ensued would no longer be enough to influence the course of the war; one could not tolerate carrying out such destruction for its own sake."
- The Mail (Adelaide), 21 December 1918, p. 1
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- Website of Magnesium Elektron Ltd.
- "ZTi" a 1952 Flight advertisement for Magnesium Elektron's new alloy
- ASTM International standards ??