A view to a kiln

Clay Technology magazine
,
7 May 2015

Following a Government bid to cut down energy costs in the ceramics industry, Natalie Daniels looks at the progress made by Lucideon. 

Engineers and scientists at Lucideon have made a breakthrough in low-energy firing technology following work on a field-enhanced sintering project. This comes after a Government initiative to reduce energy use in the ceramics industry.     

The technology, secured a seven-figure Regional Growth Fund investment and produced 15 x 15cm tiles using a sintering process – all showing the same strength as those made using traditional, energy-intensive methods.  

The Cerame-Unie’s Ceramic Industry Roadmap report highlights the challenge governments face to improve energy and carbon efficiency across the sector. New kiln design was just one of the proposed ways that the industry could reduce carbon emissions. Dr David Pearmain, Head of Field Enhanced Processing at Lucideon recognised this. ‘We initially considered what could be used to reduce energy. There were a few options available but, to me, new kiln technology stood out in terms of its potential. It has created an opportunity to re-think how companies may go about manufacturing and firing tiles, whether that be a reduction in energy, increasing speed or providing working capital production.’

The research team reduced firing temperature from 1,150oC to 600oC, which could lead to a 25% cut in fuel bills. The time taken to sinter the ceramic was also reduced, from around 45 minutes to 10. So what about the challenges? Pearmain explains, ‘The robustness and durability of the mechanical system is our biggest aim – we have to develop a mechanical system that enables the technology to work in a moving manufacturing setting rather than at the laboratory scale. We are moving towards pilot scale manufacturing trials to test this. It will be interesting to see how it behaves.’

The company has secured a full-tile manufacturing line for 12 months to develop the technology further, but was reluctant to let Clay Technology know more. ‘We will know by the end of 2016–2017 if the system has worked on a full-scale pilot plant. We are pulling out all the stops to try and achieve that,’ Pearmain says. But the interest hasn’t stopped there as the company explores new paths. As Pearmain explains, ‘There is a significant amount of interest in this technology, whether that be in traditional or engineering ceramics. This interest has led us to begin to explore other paths in different applications, so watch this space.’ Only time will tell.