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Making nanostructured components a commercial reality

A new partnership between Loughborough University and MEL Chemicals looks set to make the manufacture of nanostructured ceramic components a commercial reality.

Nanostructured advanced ceramics are now being made from particles just 20 nanometres in size – that’s smaller than a typical virus.  Their unique structure offers significantly improved properties compared to the advanced ceramics currently on offer, but their use has been prevented to date by difficulties in manufacturing with such ultrafine particles.

Now researchers at Loughborough have developed ways to process these ultrafine ceramic nanopowders, allowing actual components to be produced for the first time anywhere in the world.

To push forward with this new process the research team – from the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials – has joined forces with MEL Chemicals, a global producer and supplier of inorganic chemicals.  Together they are working on the development of a particular ceramic called zirconia, which is likely to find applications ranging from dental and hip replacements to petrochemical valves and solid oxide fuel cells, a pollution-free form of energy.  They are investigating a low energy method of producing this new ceramic that would work on an industrial scale.

Professor Jon Binner, Dean of the School of Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering, said: “This is an exciting development and we are delighted to be able to move ever closer to making it a commercial reality.  Working with MEL Chemicals is enabling us to look at this from an industry perspective and their expertise is invaluable.”

Paul Rimmer, Technical Manager at MEL Chemicals, added: “Working to our relative strengths, the collaborative product and process development projects with Loughborough University are innovative, fast paced and ideally suited to industry.”

The research at Loughborough University has been supported by 23 research grants to date – totalling £2.1 million – from the EPSRC, TSB, the Royal Society and industry.  It was also shortlisted this year for a prestigious award by the Armourers and Brasiers.

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