Technology for twists
Many people think of ceramics in terms of dinner plates, kitchen tiles, and bathroom sinks. But ceramics also include crucial components for electrical, electronic, medical, automotive and other applications. These advanced ceramics represent a market of over $100 billion in the United States alone, and demand continues to grow.
“They succeed where metals and polymers fail,” says Majid Minaireassociate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. “Ceramics can tolerate harsh environments such as the high temperatures of heat exchangers in power plants and the corrosive contents of batteries and fuel cells. They are therefore essential for most of our energy systems.
Advanced ceramics can be expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. Additionally, traditional manufacturing methods such as casting, molding and sintering generate relatively simple and balanced outputs. These limited geometries inhibit the technological innovation needed to advance the energy sector.
Conversely, additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) techniques can use computer design to enable the cost-effective production of ceramic devices in virtually any shape or configuration imaginable. Minary is excited about the potential they hold, so he has worked to support the realization of these methods.
“The idea was born during one of my meetings, with Corson Cramer from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, on the need to address this topic in a comprehensive paper,” says Minary. “We knew we had to put together an international team of experts.”
Thus, they called on the talent of a dozen authoritative colleagues from national laboratories, institutes and universities in the United States, Germany and Italy. The effort took more than a year, and the result – titled “Additive manufacturing of ceramic materials for energy applications: roadmap and opportunities” — was published by the Journal of the European Ceramic Society.
The paper focuses on material selection and processing for ceramics in the energy sector, reviewing both traditional approaches and new opportunities for additive manufacturing technologies. Sections are devoted to the potential for innovation with batteries, supercapacitors, fuel cells, smart glass, catalytic converters, heat exchangers and turbines, as well as nuclear fission and fusion energy.
Energy systems work primarily through the interactions of fluids or gases with solids, and surface area is important for these interactions. Larger surface areas often mean higher efficiencies, especially where available volumes may be low, such as in a battery or catalytic converter.
“Contradicting properties are sometimes needed too,” Minary says. “For example, a high pressure, high temperature heat exchanger requires thin walls for better heat transfer. But the walls must also be mechanically strong to tolerate the high pressures.
Thus, complex geometries are required to maximize the surfaces while maintaining the mechanical stability of the devices. New additive manufacturing technologies clearly offer the opportunity to reliably and affordably produce these intricate twists with ceramics.
Minary says the new document has undergone extensive review and refinement to avoid overly complex technical details. The authors wanted to create a resource for academia, but also for industry, policy makers and funding agency stakeholders.
“We highlight the advances in research and development needed to achieve manufacturing technologies for more efficient and reliable energy systems,” he says.
Minary also notes that addressing these challenges requires teams of experts in many different fields, and he expects to draw on the vast expertise and resources devoted to ceramic materials, processing and fabrication at ASU. to help make these advances a reality.
“The work within the Fulton Schools, like the School of Materials, Transport and Energy Engineering and the new School of Manufacturing Systems and Networksis well aligned to position this university at the forefront of developing technologies that meaningfully address the pressing needs of the energy sector,” he said.
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