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Funding boosts development of new super-tough material

23 April 2012

Sheffield Hallam scientists who have pioneered an award-winning lighter style of body armour have launched a company that could see the material used by armed forces and police officers. XeraCarb Ltd, a spin-off from Sheffield Hallam University, has devised a new ceramic composite material that is lightweight but super-tough.

Left to right: Dr Jones and Dr Pick
Left to right: Dr Jones and Dr Pick

Resulting from advanced materials research at the Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI) at Sheffield Hallam, XeraCarb will be looking at the commercial opportunities of its composite ceramic, which combines the best properties of a number of ceramic systems including silicon carbide, silicon nitride and alumina.

To support the development of the company, XeraCarb received an investment from Finance Yorkshire's Seedcorn Fund, together with funding from the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers.

XeraCarb will use the finance to continue product development, explore different uses of the material and set-up the right management team to take it forward.

Dr Anthony Pick, chief technical officer at XeraCarb, devised the composite, along with fellow company founder Dr Hywel Jones from Sheffield Hallam.

"I started the development of the product in my garage six years ago," said Dr Pick, "with the intention of producing lightweight, low mass kiln furniture to reduce the cost of producing porcelain and bone china in order to compete with the Far East.

"Our research has led to the creation of a new composite material, which can be manufactured in a range of complex shapes and in large sizes, and, whilst lightweight, retains an impressive hardness and strength."

Dr Jones added: "It has applications as diverse as porcelain manufacture and protective clothing. In porcelain manufacture the properties of the material mean that you can pack a kiln with more of the porcelain parts and hence save energy, carbon emissions and fuel costs when firing those products."

The founders have appointed Chris Wright as XeraCarb Chairman to develop the company further and explore potential business opportunities with porcelain manufacturers and protective clothing companies.

The MoD has taken a particular interest in the technology as plates of the material could form part of the body armour clothing used by UK troops and they have supported the work through their Centre for Defence Enterprise.

Dr Pick added: "Our material is 30 per cent lighter than existing alumina products. That has advantages the MoD recognise and we are keen to develop the product for this and other applications.

"We now need the commercial expertise to exploit these exciting opportunities. We need to measure how effective the material is and explore its potential with customers in the ceramic manufacturing industry."

Finance Yorkshire provides seedcorn, loan and equity linked investments, ranging from £15,000 to £2m to help a range of small and medium sized businesses to meet their funding requirements for growth and development.

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