Scientists at the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are currently testing new ceramic composites that may improve fuel efficiency of jet engines and reduce pollution.
In addition to being very lightweight, these ceramic composites have the ability to tolerate extremely high temperatures. This may, one day, drastically improve the performance of hypersonic jets and future gas turbine engines.
The construction industry has utilized ceramics for ages since the material can withstand water, oxidation, extreme heat, and water, all while remaining virtually unaffected. Ceramics also tend to be very lightweight, making them more efficient than metals in many moving technologies.
They do have a reputation for being brittle, and this has affected their reputation a useful material. However, today’s technology allows ceramics to be reinforced by fiber, making them stronger and more durable, but their structural complexity has limited their use in engines due to safety concerns.
Previously, extensive analysis of these complex materials was nearly impossible, but new CT-scanning technology that can scan different ceramic composites while operating in real time in ultrahigh temperatures under controlled loads is now possible.
Berkeley Lab plans to evaluate the durability and safety extensively, and if promising results are found, this may lead to greater widespread utilization. In fact, the Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) scientists created an x-ray computed microtomography mechanical testing rig to determine microcrack damage under heavy loads at 1,750 degrees Celsius. The results give engineers the information they need in order to determine any risk of mechanical or structural failure under the most extreme operating conditions.