There is substantial interest in Ultra High Temperature Ceramics (UHTCs) because of the requirement for materials that can cope with the extreme temperatures generated during flight by future hypersonic vehicles. Developing advanced materials for nose and wing leading edges and propulsion components that can withstand up to 3000°C and offer superior thermal shock resistance is a must to bring these vehicles into reality. Other challenges associated with these conditions include the presence of corrosive plasmas, severe oxidation, extreme heat fluxes and high mechanical stresses. With an aim to develop carbon fibre based UHTC composites for such applications the Advanced Ceramics Group of Loughborough University, with the financial support from Dstl, initiated their 3-year UHTC research programme in November 2008. The preliminary aim of the project was to create a number of Cf-UHTC composites using a variety of UHTC powders such as ZrB2, SiC, LaB6, HfB2, HfC etc., and to evaluate their potential for high temperature applications. A purpose built oxyacetylene test rig was employed to evaluate the high temperature oxidation performance of these composites at temperatures >2500°C. HfB2 and HfC based UHTC composites exhibited excellent oxidation and ablation resistance showing no surface erosion even after 60 s at such extreme temperatures. Inherent scalability of the composite preparation technique was verified by preparing large and complex shaped UHTC composites. Following the successful completion of the initial project the researchers were successful in obtaining continued funding for another 24 months to develop a better understanding of the various process parameters, evaluate the mechanical properties at room and high temperature and also to verify the high temperature oxidation performance using other techniques such as arc jet testing and scram jet testing.
Research into the processing of nanostructured zirconia has recently been licensed to MEL Chemicals in the UK. They have licensed three patents covering the production of high solids content nanosuspensions that display low viscosity, the ability to produce flowable, crushable granules from the nanosuspensions by spray freeze drying and the resistance of nano zirconia ceramics to moisture at elevated temperatures. With respect to the latter, nanostructured zirconia containing ≥ 3mol% yttria can withstand steam at ~250˚C for up to at least 3 weeks without showing any sign of hydrothermal ageing; conventional 3YSZ turns into a damp powder after only 1 hour under these conditions. The work on nano ceramics, not just that on nanozirconia but also the work on nano alumina, nano YAG, nano barium titanate and nano ZTA, has now been nominated for a Loughborough University Enterprise Award. The Awards are designed to celebrate the University’s academic engagement with business, public and voluntary organisations to create social, cultural and economic impact through knowledge exchange. Nominations have been shortlisted in five categories including intellectual property, knowledge transfer, consultancy, graduate enterprise and social and cultural impact; the nano ceramics work has been nominated under the category of intellectual property and a winner will be selected from each category by public vote on 25th April 2012. If people wish to vote in these Awards, there is still time, see http://www.lboro.ac.uk/enterprise-awards/.
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