Whether they are called engineered ceramics, fine technical ceramics or industrial ceramics, enhanced or technical ceramics are reinforced non-metallic and inorganic compounds with exceptional physical and chemical properties. These are:
- Excellent resistance to high and extremely high temperatures
- High resistance to wear and tear and corrosion
- Tensile strength ranging from high to very high
- Superb electrical insulation
- High and low density materials yet with the strength to maintain their original
The major driver of growth in the technical ceramics market is their performance in extreme and demanding environments. These can include components in engines and power generation turbines, heat exchangers and medical implants such as bone replacements. These ceramics are also lightweight and so are ideal for applications in consumer durables.
Monolithic ceramics are compounds based on silicon — usually silicon nitride and silicon carbide. They retain a high strength and creep resistance at high temperatures and a good corrosion resistance. There are strong market growth prospects in electronics machinery and automotive applications. However, further research is necessary to improve their vulnerability to fractures and impacts.
Ceramic Matrix Composites
Ceramic matrix composites are a solution to the brittleness of monolithic technical ceramics. They consist of a ceramic matrix that is reinforced with a refractory fibre such as silicon carbide. Current research in Estonia is developing an aluminium oxide nanofibre called NAFEN that is aimed at improving the ductility of the ceramic matrix composite. This enables the technical ceramics to retain a high Young’s modulus — a measure of its strength and rigidity — combined with improved ductility. NAFEN is already widely used to reinforce polymer composites as well as polymer coatings and paints.
The resulting ceramic matrix composite has a low density but a very high hardness and resistance to chemical corrosion and excellent thermal resistance. The growth area for these compounds is in high-temperature applications where they can replace metallic super alloys. They are also increasingly used in medical applications such as enhancing MRI device performance, as well as in implants in cardiovascular surgery or orthopaedics.
Demand for technical ceramics matrix composites is expected to increase more than 10 times over in the coming decade. Their popularity is expected to rise substantially as jet engine and aircraft manufacturers opt to use these compounds for high-performance components.
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