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Creating next-generation materials for the toughest environments

22 February 2013

Loughborough University is leading a new £4.2 million research project to develop next-generation materials that are able to operate in the most extreme environments.

Testing ultra-high temperature ceramic composites at 2,700°C
Testing ultra-high temperature ceramic composites at 2,700°C

The conditions in which materials are required to function are becoming ever more challenging.  Operating temperatures and pressures are increasing in all areas of manufacture, energy generation, transport and environmental clean-up.  Often the high temperatures are combined with severe chemical environments and exposure to high energy and, in the nuclear industry, to ionising radiation.

The production and processing of next-generation materials capable of operating in these conditions will be a major challenge, especially at the scale required in many of these applications.  In some cases, totally new compositions, processing and joining strategies will have to be developed.

Academics from Loughborough’s Department of Materials will work with Imperial College London and Queen Mary University on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded project.  Ultimately the research will allow new and revolutionary compositions, microstructures and composite systems to be designed, manufactured and tested.

Project leader Professor Jon Binner, Dean of the Loughborough School of Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering, said: “This research is essential because of the increasingly demanding conditions in which materials have to operate across the whole spectrum of applications.  It is vital that we develop the required understanding of how the processing, microstructures and properties of materials systems operating in extreme environments interact, to the point where materials with the required performance can actually be designed and then manufactured.”

The research team has significant experience of working in materials development and engineering.  Composites based on 'exotic' materials such as hafnium diboride are already being developed for use as leading edges for hypersonic vehicles by the three universities, as part of a Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) funded project.

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