Nanomaterials take on extreme environments

Materials World magazine
1 Jul 2008

The HiPerNano Sector Focus Group was launched on 19 May 2008 at a seminar on ‘High Performance Nano-Enhanced Materials for Extreme Environments’ (HiPerNano) in London, UK. The event, organised by the UK Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), addressed the materials challenges faced by performance engineering industries and possible solutions.

The goal of the Focus Group is to define an industry-led agenda down the supply chain to steer the KTN’s activities for high performance engineering. Each industry sector has a different set of priorities with respect to nanotechnology.

With 340 recorded partnership meetings at the seminar, it proved an excellent launch pad for the Group.

Commercial developments

At the event, Dr Benjamin Farmer of Airbus UK explained the company’s three approaches towards nanocomposites – nano-augmented, nano-engineered and nano-enabled. The diverse applications for multiscale conductive composites containing carbon nanotubes was described with specific reference to lightning strike protection. Other component enhancement methods under investigation by Airbus include carbon nanotubes for interlaminar stitching, and the use of fuzzy fibres for intralaminar property improvements.

A different application of nanomaterials is in net-shaping manufacturing, which is of interest to aerospace companies as current methods for producing metallics result in 90% of the base material being machined away. Additive layer manufacture is a computer-controlled process that builds up a component layer by layer. Farmer discussed how polymeric materials with nano-reinforcements could make net-shape forming of high performance components possible.

The theme of materials development was picked up by Graeme Purdy of IIika Technologies Ltd, based in Chilworth, UK. Ilika has developed a method of high-throughput materials synthesis and screening based on a physical vapour deposition chamber. Up to six elements can be deposited onto a central matrix so that a compositional gradient can be generated – each square of the grid has a unique combination of elements.

Using a range of techniques these compositions can be analysed and property maps plotted to see the ‘hot spot’ compositions. Purdy outlined a case study, supported by the Carbon Trust, to develop a low or
non-platinum electro-catalyst for fuel cells. The economic driver for this is clear – platinum costs over US$2,000 per troy ounce, accounting for 40% of the cost of a fuel cell.

Teer self-lubricating coatings, which are being investigated by a UK research consortium including Aston University, in Birmingham, and QinetiQ, based in London, were described by Dr Glyn Dyson of Teer Coatings in Droitwich. This project addresses coatings for stiction, friction and wear limit in microdevices such as microelectromechanical systems. Teer is also working within the European Sixth Framework Programme AMBIO project to investigate metal nitride, oxide and oxynitrides coatings.

Membership of HiPerNano is free, and organisations are encouraged to get involved.