Scientists redefine production of world's third hardest material

Posted on Wednesday 14th May 2014

Isaac Chang

Birmingham researchers have reshaped the production process of one of the hardest materials known to man

  • New method is cheaper and more efficient
  • Commercialisation of the technology currently being sort
  • Material third hardest known behind diamond and boron nitride

Dr Isaac Chang from the School of Metallurgy and Materials was interviewed by The Manufacturer about his recent project, funded by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, to look at reducing the costs of producing boron carbide.

 

Scientists from the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences have developed a new method of producing boron carbide powder which uses lower temperatures and introduces fewer contaminants than current processing methods. The cheaper and more efficient way of processing what is known to be one of the hardest materials on the planet, could lead to the production of lighter, stronger and more hard-wearing machinery used for manufacturing.

Boron carbide is important for many kinds of machinery used to make tools and other kinds of hard wearing equipment. Abrasive jets, for example, which are used to cut hard or heat sensitive material, need to be manufactured from hard materials to minimise wear. In addition, boron carbide is very effective at absorbing neutrons, which means it has potential for use in the nuclear industry to protect against radiation.

Licensing partners are currently being sought by the University’s commercialisation arm, Alta Innovations, to commercialise the technology.

Currently, boron carbide is produced in the form of large ingots, produced by mixing petroleum coke – the carbon element of the compound – with boron oxide at temperatures of up to 2000 °C. These ingots then have to be ground into fine grains before being manufactured into the required shape. This method uses a lot of energy and time, making boron carbide products up to 10 times more expensive than other, less hard wearing ceramic materials which currently dominate the market.

 

Read the full article and watch a video on The Manufacturer