Webinar Round Up
Webinar Round Up: Understanding the benefits of Advanced Ceramic Materials for Withstanding Harsh Environment Applications
On May 25th, a selection of experts came together to discuss the use of advanced ceramic materials in harsh environment application development. What constitutes a harsh environment covers a wide range of factors which could cause the degradation of a component or system. One application area which calls for a materials to withstand a plethora of extreme conditions is space.
The session began with a presentation by Dr. Adrian Tighe, a Materials Engineer at the European Space Agency (ESA) who explained: “The first thing you have to do is to look at the materials and see what has to be done to qualify them for use in space”. Adrian’s role is to qualify materials for use in various missions to space and he highlighted a number of factors which must be considered:
- High temperature and thermal cycling – whilst a spacecraft is in orbit, the temperature can fluctuate between -150 degrees Celsius and 500 degrees Celsius and may transition between these temperatures tens of thousands of times during its lifecycle
- Atomic Oxygen (low earth orbit) – remnants of the Earth’s atmosphere which are highly corrosive and can degrade materials on the outside of a spacecraft
- High energy radiation – for the outside of the spacecraft, UV radiation can damage systems and materials, High energy electrons and protons are particularly challenging for electrical systems. Radiation is more of a challenge in space as there is no atmosphere to provide protection against it
- Vacuum –the absence of air which can lead to a process called outgassing. Molecules can release from the surface of a material and deposit themselves on sensitive equipment
- Contamination effects – environmental impacts from molecular and particles/dust must be taken into account as they can cause damage to sensitive components and systems
Landon Mertz, CEO of Cerion Nanomaterials led the discussion and was keen to find out from the panellists why they had explored nanomaterials and specifically ceramics for use in this environment. Dr. Frank Meyer, Managing Director of CeraNovis GmbH, explained that “one key advantage of nanomaterials was that they have a high thermal shock resistance. When you have a metal transitioning to different temperatures it will expand and shrink. You need a ceramic coating that can do so with it.” Advanced ceramics are well suited to harsh environments given their ability to withstand high temperatures, have good vacuum compatibility (low outgassing), are lightweight, have hardness and are able to withstand chemical and environmental factors.
However, there are some characteristics of advanced ceramics which present challenges for a space environment. Ceramics can be brittle and have stringent fracture control requirements. They can be complex to repair and therefore require a lot of care and attention during the validation and manufacturing process. Yuriy Butenko, an ESA Materials Engineer, explained that during his validation of ceramics in his work includes looking at their behavior during launch and re-entry. Although able to maintain a level of hardness, the brittle nature of ceramics means that special attention had to be paid during this process as vibrations caused by the launch could potentially lead to material failure. Ceramics are therefore tested for vibration endurance and their mechanical load capabilities. Once in space, the mechanical load is no longer an issue but getting the materials off the ground will be an area of continued research and testing for the space industry.
One area that all of the panellist agreed would be a key site for innovation is the adhesion of ceramics to another substrate. Substrates with dissimilar surfaces require careful adhesion to match the properties of the materials. This is an important part of the validation process for ESA and an important project for companies such as CeraNovis. Whilst there are some challenges that need to be overcome, advanced ceramics present a range of opportunities for use in space. They uniquely provide protection from a number of harsh environments and will continue to be present in missions across the solar system.
We would like to thank Kennametal and Cerion Nanomaterials for their sponsorship of this session. If you were unable to attend the webinar or would like to recommend it to a colleague, you can watch it on demand here. If you enjoyed the webinar and would like to find out more about what ceramics could do for your harsh environment application, make sure to register for Ceramics Expo, which is set to take place in person on August 30 – September 1, 2021. To join us at the free-to-attend conference and exhibition, you can register here.