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Ceramic Tech Today

Poll shows value of ACerS-NIST phase equilibria diagrams

Published on April 4th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Over three-quarters of the respondents to a survey conducted in 2008 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and The American Ceramic Society say their work would range from difficult to impossible without access to phase equilibria diagrams.

The survey verified that access to the critically evaluated phase diagrams, produced via the ACerS-NIST Phase Equilibria Diagrams Program, is valuable, with 65 percent of survey respondents indicating that access to diagrams is either “important” or “very important” to their work.
Other important findings include the following:

• The majority of respondents (71%) indicate that it is either important or very important for them to be able to access diagrams in a single source;
• Forty percent of the respondents report that they use the diagrams at least once a month or more frequently;
• While “hard copy” is currently the most common method of receiving Phase Equilibria diagrams, the future preference is electronic media;
• There is a clear demand from respondents for both Electrical property data (62 percent of respondents) and Mechanical property data (70 percent) to be included in a database.

A total of 263 ACerS members and Phase Diagram product users responded to the survey.

ACerS and NIST have collaborated for more than 60 years on the publishing of phase diagrams of ceramic systems in an effort to support growth and progress in the ceramics scientific, technical and industrial communities by providing relevant phase diagrams for oxides, salts, carbides, nitrides, borides, compound semiconductors and chalcogenides.

ACerS and NIST have provided high-quality phase since 1982. At that time, computerization of all data activities was the major goal for the two organizations. Today, the Ceramic Phase Diagrams Data Center maintains computer files for all references, commentaries and chemical classification information, as well as the diagrams themselves, in graphics form. These computer files form the basis for the ACerS-NIST Phase Equilibria Diagrams Database.

ACerS sells the phase diagram data in book, CD and online form. To learn more about the options, click here.

Ceramic Tech Today

World demand for refractories forecast to rise 3.5% annually through 2012 to 45.2 million metric tons

Published on April 3rd, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Credit: Unifrax

Credit: Unifrax

A new report by an industry research firm predicts that there will be a small but steady growth in world demand for refractories through 2012, averaging 3.5 percent annually or 4.5 percent based on anticipated price increases. The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland, Ohio based research firm pegs the 2012 total market value of refractories at $28.5 billion.

The report acknowledges that problems in the world economy will dampen demand to pre-2008 levels, but a researchers anticipate a recovery by 2012 and support for long-term growth that bolstered “by the increasing use of better performing, more expensive refractories.”

The outlook for refractory producers in the United States is fairly good, according to Freedonia. The U.S. is second only to China in production, and although demand in the U.S. will remain flat on a tonnage basis, the total value of  U.S.-made refractories should increase by eight percent through 2012 and 20 percent by 2017. Freedonia’s report asserts that the technical abilities of U.S. producers will continue to give the nation an edge in higher end items that can demand higher prices. These specialized refractories include preformed shapes and nonclay monolithics that will find their way to markets in Canada and West European countries like Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom.  Even so, the U.S., according to Freedonia, will become a net importer of refractories by 2017.

The report predicts that China will continue to be the dominant consumer and producer of refractories. Consumption in China is driven by the nation’s steel, cement and flat glass production. Freedonia notes that China uses refractories at a higher rate per done of steel than in developed nations.

Growth of these Chinese industries is expected to stay strong and account for over 80 percent of the new demand contained in the 2012 predictions. India is also expected to have above-average growth and substantial strength is anticipated in Eastern Europe where steel-consuming goods such as household appliances and motor vehicles to is creating demand for steel. Opportunities will also exist in Latin America and the Africa/Mideast region.

Iron and steel production is by far the largest market for refractories. Advances in this market have benefited from increased iron and steel production in recent years compared to the late 1990s. However, the rate of refractory usage per ton of steel has continued to decline, holding back gains. This trend is expected to continue, adversely affecting the outlook for refractory suppliers.

WORLD REFRACTORY DEMAND BY REGION (000 metric tons). Copyright: Freedonia Group

% Annual Growth

Item 2002 2007 2012 2002-2007 2007-2012
World Refractory Demand 22,865 38,100 45,200 10.8 3.5
North America 3,585 3,725 3,700 0.8 0.1
Western Europe 3,645 3,695 3,700 0.3 -
Asia/Pacific 10,325 24,635 31,015 19.0 4.7
Other Regions 5,310 6,045 6,735 2.6 2.2


Item 1997 2002 2007 2012 2017
Steel Production (mil metric tons) 98.5 91.6 98.2 100.5 103.0
m ton refractory/mil $ GFI 1.97 1.28 1.15 0.95 0.80
m ton refractory/000 m ton steel 36.5 30.3 29.5 28.9 28.2
Refractory Demand (000 metric tons) 3,600 2,780 2,900 2,900 2,900
$/m ton 688 701 807 897 1000
Refractory Demand (mil $) 2,475 1,950 2,340 2,600 2,900
net exports 115 30 60 0 -20
Refractory Shipments (mil $) 2,590 1,980 2,400 2,600 2,880

The full 350-page report on World Refractories is available for $5,700 from The Freedonia Group Inc. To order, contact Corinne Gangloff by phone 440.684.9600, fax 440.646.0484 or e-mail.

Ceramic Tech Today

Budget good news for fusion effort

Published on April 3rd, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

"Small" UCLA tokamak prototype

"Small" UCLA tokamak prototype

The FY 2009 federal budget bill, at last, ends what has been something of an embarrassment and point of anger and pessimism with the U.S. scientific community by containing significant funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project. This is great news for the international project and for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory employees who have been valiantly working on it, despite years of neglect from those the previously controlled the federal purse strings.

ITER is the multinational tokamak fusion power research effort, headquartered in France. It involves the European Union nations plus the United States, Japan, People’s Republic of China, Russia and South Korea.

The U.S.’s role in the project has been precarious because funding for its participation was eliminated in the federal FY 2008 budget.

In interview conducted by Knox News‘ Frank Munger, for his blog, Atomic City Underground, the director of the lab discussed how during this de-funded period, ORNL kept the labs efforts in survival mode. “Actually, [we’ve] were running on fumes in the gas tank this last little while,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason.

But the U.S.’s efforts received a huge lift when the FY 2009 budget included $124 million for ITER for the rest of the fiscal year. “The original request (for fiscal 2009) was $214 million,” Mason said. “We’re part way through the year, so the reality is that having lost that time for the first almost six months of the year, we could not have effectively used $214 (million) for the rest of the year. So, $124 million is a very good number.

“It’s great news for ITER,” Mason told Munger. “Those procurements that have been sort of waiting in the wings can proceed now and, again, because it’s in the Omnibus, it’s base funding. That’s is important because ITER is a multi-year project. Although there might have been a scenario where you could get some Recovery Act funding, that doesn’t fix the problem in the out years. So, getting a number like $124M, that’s a real start on ITER.”

The funding sent a positive note to the international community. “It’s hard to sustain an argument that you’re a committed partner when the funding is almost zeroed out,” Mason remarked.

Ceramic Tech Today

Can a nuclear fuel “lease” system aid the growth of nuclear power?

Published on April 1st, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

For those who still see a “Nuclear Renaissance” in the world’s energy future, the Russian Federation’s and the United State’s respective national academies of sciences have a proposal that is akin to pruning a bush in order to make it flourish: Provide to those nations that want to use it a stable – but tightly controlled – supply of nuclear fuel from a small number of supply centers. When the fuel is spent, it must be returned or exchanged for a fresh supply.

The problem the academies are trying to solve how to accommodate countries desiring to expand or start  nuclear-derived energy plants while not also facilitating the enrichment of uranium for bombs.

The two academies note that, “Any approach for enhancing the nonproliferation features of international fuel cycles must be staged to respond to the nonproliferation needs of the time period. Today, this suggests a focus on convincing countries that they do not need to establish their own enrichment facilities, which has motivated efforts by several countries and international organizations to address the enrichment issue.”

A book has just been published that contains a joint report from the two nations about how this proposal could work. Internationalization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle summarizes key issues and analyses of the topic, offers some criteria for evaluating options, and makes findings and recommendations to help the U.S., the Russian Federation and the international community.

The authors acknowledge that the idea for a stable but controlled source of nuclear fuels has pitfalls. One, for example, is that nations who might consider a use-and-swap “leasing” system would, understandably, be fearful of the risk of having their supply unilaterally cut off during an international incident. On the other hand, the user nations could avoid the security and environmental hazards of storing or processing spent fuel

Supplier nations could also face internal political problems related to the costs and risks associated with handling another country’s nuclear wastes, not to mention costs associated with keeping the lid on the intellectual capital and preventing intelligence leaks.

The authors believe, however, that it may be possible over time to forge a worldwide system of international centers that are responsible for uranium enrichment, spent fuel management and transportation. They also envision a form of collective ownership of these centers that would allow some joint control and profit sharing. The report also suggests that another incentive to encourage other countries not to develop their own enrichment systems is to have the U.S. and Russia provide “the necessary infrastructure for safe and secure use nuclear energy.”

The authors, lastly note, that the sine qua non in all this is an atmosphere of cooperation between the U.S. and the Russian Federation.

“The joint committees recognize that it is unlikely that the U.S. government will bring the agreement into force in an environment of worsening relations between the United States and Russia. It is the joint committees’ hope that current disagreements that have recently emerged will not interfere with the United States and Russia working together toward their common goal of inhibiting nuclear weapons proliferation as nuclear energy use grows across the world.”

Ceramic Tech Today

Video of the week – The sight of individual carbon atoms in motion

Published on April 1st, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

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This is a brief video. Maybe I am overwhelmed by this because of my chemistry background, but in my opinion, this video documents what truly should be “wow”-level historical type of moment in material-related sciences. As the folks at the Lawrence Berkeley Nation Lab note, this is equivalent to the first biologist who peered through a microscope and saw a cell divide.

To summarize, this video is no more, or less, than watching for the first time, in real-time, individual carbon atoms being knocked off the edges of a hole in a sheet of graphene while other atoms break and recreate bonds as they shift around in response, looking for the most stable position. The video also contains a simulation of what is occurring (created using a Monte Carlo simulation method to “orchestrate” which carbon atoms leave and which shift).

And, like all really great movies, it’s hard to tell who deserves more credit: The actors or the director and cinematographers? The analogy isn’t perfect, but as awesome as this movie is, what is equally amazing is the incredible electron microscope behind the movie – TEAM 0.5.

TEAM 0.5, which just recently became operational, is the world’s most powerful electron microscopy. The technology behind TEAM 0.5 come from a team that includes the Berkeley, Argonne and Oak Ridge National Labs, the Frederick Seitz Materials Lab of the University of Illinois, and two electron microscopy companies, FEI (Portland) and CEOS of (Heidelberg).

In some ways, researchers are just starting to “play” with TEAM and are already planning on using it on other structures and materials. Nevertheless, this first video is providing new leads and confirmations to those studying spin properties in atoms.

Materials & Innovations

Aerogel – Universe’s largest catcher’s mitt?

Published on March 31st, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Objects in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: ESA.

Objects in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: ESA.

Practicing to use this “mitt” might be a little dicey, but apparently this is a serious proposal. Note, the conference referenced below is the Fifth European Conference on Space Debris hosted by the European Space Agency.

From the transcript of a broadcast by the Australia/ABC-produced World Today:

ELEANOR HALL: Scientists are warning that there’s now so much junk in space that it’s posing a risk to astronauts.

Space scientists are meeting this week in Germany to discuss ways of dealing with the debris problem that they say is so severe that near-Earth flights could soon become too dangerous.

As Barbara Miller reports, the meeting comes just weeks after two satellites crashed into one another over Siberia.

BARBARA MILLER: There are thousands of bits of debris in space and even the smallest can cause significant damage.

[ . . . ]

Kerry Doherty is the Curator of Space Technology at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

BARBARA MILLER: Other possible solutions still sound a little like science fiction.

KERRY DOHERTY: There’ve been various proposals, including actually putting up into orbit large blocks of aerogel, which is an amazingly light substance – it’s actually the lightest solid, the least dense solid known.

And this, supposedly you place it in an orbital location where it can actually attach pieces of space debris in its structure, and then be itself de-orbited.

BARBARA MILLER: So it would almost be like a huge blob of jelly which would go around collecting bits of debris?

KERRY DOHERTY: More like… putting a pad of something directly in the path of the space debris, so in the orbital path, and these things will just block into it, and be captured by the material.

Kind of like a giant catcher’s mitt.

Audio of full segment is here.

Adding that, yes, aerogel has already been used with satellites to catch the dust and other materials around comets, but the aerogel in this context would have to be more backstop than filter.

Ceramic Tech Today

AECOM launching new UCSB nano sustainability initiative

Published on March 31st, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

UCSB's Bren Hall, center of Bren School of Environmental Studies

UCSB's Bren Hall, center of Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

Los Angeles-based AECOM has announced that one of its divisions, AECOM Environment, and the University of California at Santa Barbara are collaborating on a new Sustainable Nanotechnology Initiative that will be located at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. AECOM is a worldwide enterprise that describes itself as a provider of “a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation, and technical excellence in delivering solutions that enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural, and social environments.”

According to an AECOM release, the goal of the SNI is to begin to understand the environmental risks associated with engineered nanomaterials, according to a company news release.

AECOM says it will collaborate with UCSB to:

“[S]tudy nanomaterial fate and transport, assist in exposure assessment and risk quantification and modeling, develop outreach programs and related training materials for use by industry involved in handling nanomaterials, and conduct ‘real world’ testing of methods and instrumentation for the detection and characterization of nanomaterials.

“New nanotechnology-related products are already impacting global industry and society, and the Bren School’s SNI is critical to helping industry and the public understand the health and environmental implications of nanomaterials,” said Robert Weber, AECOM Environment Group chief executive and a member of Bren’s advisory board. “Our collaboration provides another platform to share expertise, and positions us to better assist our clients in addressing issues associated with some nanomaterials.”

AECOM Environment says it is also working on aquatic toxicity studies for a major commercial producer of carbon nanotubes.

Ceramic Tech Today

Three selected for national hypersonic centers

Published on March 31st, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

NASA's Mach 5+ X-43A, first flown on March 27, 2004

NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Office of Scientific Research have tapped the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Texas A&M University in College Station and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging LLC of Thousand Oaks, Calif. to be the nation’s hypersonic science centers.

The new centers will focus on Mach 5 aircraft using “air-breathing” propulsion. Of special interest to people in the ceramics field is that these centers will be spending a lot of time working on the materials and structures of such aircraft.

“NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory have made a major commitment to advancing foundational hypersonic research and training the next generation of hypersonic researchers,” said James Pittman, principal investigator for the Hypersonics Project of NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “Our joint investment of $30 million over five years will support basic science and applied research that improves our understanding of hypersonic flight.”

Researchers hope to eventually create an engine that could propel aircraft to speeds exceeding 12 times the speed of sound.

Each center will have a different specialty. The UVA center will be the National Center for Hypersonic Combined Cycle Propulsion. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, George Washington University, Cornell University, Stanford University, Michigan State University, SUNY Buffalo, North Carolina State University, ATK GASL Inc. (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), NIST and Boeing will join the UVA effort.

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging will be the National Hypersonic Science Center for Hypersonic Materials and Structures. Team members include researchers from the University of California, University of Colorado in Boulder, the University of Miami, Princeton University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Texas.

Texas A&M’s project, the soon-to-be National Center for Hypersonic Laminar-Turbulent Transition will concentrate in boundary layer control research. It’s partners include researchers from the California Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona, the UCLA and Case Western Reserve University.

In the past, the work by NASA and the AFOSR sometimes overlapped. The announcement about establishing the three centers follows a review of each other’s technology portfolios.

“The Air Force Office of Scientific Research is very excited to continue our partnership with NASA,” said John Schmisseur, manager for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s Hypersonics and Turbulence Program. “The centers represent our first effort to sponsor research jointly.”

NASA and the AFOSR will each kick in approximately $15 million to fund the centers at the rate of about $2 million per year per center. The funding can be renewed for up to five years. NASA and AFOSR received more than 60 proposal before selecting UVA, Texas A&M and Teledyne.

Teledyne is clearly pleased with making the cut.

“For over three decades, Teledyne Scientific & Imaging has been a leader in the development of novel materials such as ultra-high performance ceramic composites, polymer composites, and multi-functional materials,” said Robert Mehrabian, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Teledyne Technologies. “Teledyne is honored by our selection as a National Hypersonic Science Center from an extremely competitive group of respondents. This effort supports Teledyne’s strategy of leadership in areas of fundamental science and technology critical to the U.S. Government.”

According to its abstract, Teledyne says it will lead an effort to “[R]evolutionize the design of hypersonic vehicles by creating a new class of hybrid, hierarchical materials that achieve substantial breakthroughs in oxidation resistance, maximum useable temperature, and maximum supportable heat flux.”

The company says this will cover:

  • Novel routes for combining different materials in tailored morphologies,
  • New experimental methods that will enable the direct visualization of the mechanisms that control a material’s performance,
  • Multi-scale probabilistic model formulations that can simulate mechanisms at all length scales with high fidelity,
  • Novel methods of net-shape processing, and
  • The combination of experiments and multi-scale models into a virtual test system that will transform the way in which materials are designed and qualified.

Ceramic Tech Today

New hydrogen economy book available

Published on March 30th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

The American Ceramic Society has just published a book on one of the most vibrant areas of energy research and development: Materials Innovations in an Emerging Hydrogen Economy (Ceramic Transactions Volume 202), edited by George Wicks and Jack Simon.

The book is a collection of new papers presented at the 2008 Materials Innovations in an Emerging Hydrogen Economy conference, organized by ACerS and ASM International, and endorsed by The National Hydrogen Association and the Society for Advancement of Material and Process Engineering. It features articles organized into the following five areas:

  • International Overview
  • Storage
  • Production
  • Delivery
  • Leakage Detection/Safety.

This volume is an essential resource for those working on hydrogen-related needs and challenges, including those in academia, government, and industry.

For ordering information, go click here, and the see all of ACerS’ book offerings, check out the Society’s bookstore.

Participants at the 2008 Hydrogen Economy meeting discussed the science and policy issues behind innovations like the emergence of fuel cell-powered vehicles such as this Toyota model that was demonstrated.

Participants at the 2008 Emerging Hydrogen Economy meeting discussed the science and policy issues behind innovations like the emergence of fuel cell-powered vehicles such as this Toyota model that was demonstrated.


NIST, University of Colorado discover way to stabilize AFM measurements

Published on March 30th, 2009 | Edited By: Peter Wray

Credit: G.Kuebler/JILA/CU

Credit: G.Kuebler/JILA/CU

NIST and the University of Colorado, operating together as the JILA*, may have just made life a little simpler for those engaged in nano-oriented research by making it easier to use Atomic Force Microscopy.

AFM has become an essential tool in the past two decades because of its ability to build a nanoscale topographic image of a material using a laser and a tiny probe attached to a diving board-like device. Thus far, however, one of the significant downsides to AFM has been its sensitivity to outside “noise” including acoustic noise, vibration and temperature variations. The good news is that the JIAL team believes it has figured out a way to provide “a 100-fold improvement in the stability of the instrument’s measurements under ambient conditions.”

On a practical level, it isn’t surprising that a tool as sensitive as AFM – something that can measure atomic scale physical features and interactions (e.g., bonds) – is also sensitive to the macro conditions within a lab setting. One NIST scientist, Thomas Perkins, put the current situation this way: “At this scale, it’s like trying to hold a pen and draw on a sheet of paper while riding in a jeep.

Until now, this meant that researchers had to invest a lot of time and resources isolating the material and the AFM from outside interference via the use of ultralow temperatures, isolation tables, vacuums, etc. Even these isolation techniques are of no use if the material must be kept in a liquid, as is often the case with biomaterials.

According to a press release, the JILA solution uses a standard AFM probe, but adds two additional laser beams and a precisely marked substrate to sense and respond to the three-dimensional motion of both the test specimen and the probe. The extra beams create a reference system, and any non-material motion of the tip relative to the sample is corrected immediately by compensating for the shift in the substrate.

The method can control the probes position to 40 picometers over 100 seconds, and JILA says it has been able to keep long-term, room temperature drift at 5 picometers per minute, a level they say is a 100-fold improvement over previous ambient-condition AFM measurements.

“This is the same idea as active noise cancellation headphones, but applied to atomic force microscopy,” says Perkins.

An added benefit is that with this reduction in interference, AFM measurements can be performed slower, improving image resolutions by a factor of five.

(* The meaning of “JILA” gets a little confusing and is why I didn’t mention it earlier. It used to stand for Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, but the joint work between NIST and CU has grown way beyond astrophysics. The term JILA is still used in regard to the joint NIST/CU work, but doesn’t stand for anything anymore.)

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