Materials engineering will drive development of the next generation of energy efficient vehicles. Credit: Wikipedia.

News is ubiquitous about efforts and advances in the realm of energy, often in the context of transportation, environmental impact and efficiency. Just yesterday, for example, President Obama announced $14.2 million in new DOE funding to develop lightweight materials for advance materials. According to the press release, a 10 percent weight reduction can improve fuel economy by six to eight percent.

Don’t get too excited, though. The new funding will support three specific materials research areas, none of which include ceramic materials:

1. Predictive modeling of carbon fiber composites
2. Predictive modeling of advanced steels
3. Advanced alloy development for automotive and heavy-duty engines.

We know, however, that ceramic materials have properties that are unique, making them critical contributors to engineered systems of materials. But, ceramic materials are subtle; you have to know what you are doing, especially when used in sophisticated applications.

It is no wonder, then, that the Energy, Environment and Transportation track of the 4th International Congress on Ceramics has attracted the largest number of participants. Kevin Fox, of Savannah River National Lab, led the technical programming committee for this track. He says, “Ceramics will be highlighted as the enabling technology for clean and renewable energy production, environmental stewardship, and efficient transportation.”

The triple-themed track covers a lot of ground and addresses issues that are global. Recognizing this, Fox said the programming committee “carefully coordinated the themes [energy, environment, transportation] to reflect the cross-cutting impact of ceramic materials in these topical areas. Representatives from across the globe will provide presentations on the current and future influence of ceramics in these areas, as well as focused accounts of leading edge developments for specific applications.”

Here is a sampling from the ICC4 Energy, Environment and Transportation track. Profiles of invited speakers in the track can be seen on the website. ICC4 is July 15-19 in Chicago.

The Unique Role of Ceramics in Energy Technologies: Recent Developments and Opportunities
Juan Nino, University of Florida

This talk start with an overview of the unique role that ceramic materials currently play in energy related technologies (chemical, electrical, and nuclear). It will be followed by a summary of recent critical material developments in several areas including fuel cells, batteries and ultracapacitors, the opportunities that these advancements enable and a path to realization will be highlighted. In addition, the essential role that ceramics can play in transitioning from fossil and radioactive energy sources towards a sustainable energy landscape will be emphasized. In particular, ceramic solutions to current materials needs in proton conductors and the nuclear fuel cycle will be presented. The talk will then transition towards the role of ceramics in sustainable electrical energy generation such as thermoelectric and piezoelectric energy harvesting. Finally, the challenge to scientists and engineers from industry, government and academia to realize these opportunities will be discussed.

Change of Energy Mix — Challenges on the Materials Level
Wolfgang Rossner, Siemens AG

Sufficient, safe and sustainable generation of energy is an essential key factor for our future global development. The continuous growth of the global population, the progress of industrialization and the increasing urbanization are the main sources for the continuously increasing demand for energy and electric power in particular. To master these challenges and in consideration of the global situation of ‘fuel’ resources, environmental safety and climate change the overall energy mix has started to change. The predominance of fossil and nuclear energy is losing ground while renewable and ‘green’ energy are increasing their contribution. Nevertheless, the change of energy mix has to provide the highest efficiency levels and the lowest emission levels in a holistic evaluation. In consequence this translates to continuous performance improvements of both conventional and renewable power generation. In many cases this is related to the progress of materials performance. High temperature alloys and ceramics in gas turbines or functional coatings and heat transfer materials in solar thermal power plants are just a few examples. Several scenarios will be discussed with respect to the potential of novel and advanced materials to create substantial impact on the future energy mix as well as the challenges where advanced ceramics seem to be predestined to provide progress.

Future of Porous Ceramics in Environmental, Energy and Related Applications
Paolo Colombo, University of Padova

Highly porous ceramics are key enabling components for a wide variety of engineering applications, in fields ranging from medicine to the environment, from transportation to energy, from aerospace to defense. The ability to tailor the architecture of the porosity, such as its amount, the pore size, shape and interconnectivity, down to the nano-scale through advanced processing techniques allows researchers and engineers to select the most appropriate set of properties to match the specific requirements of the application. For instance, global environmental concerns over the presence of nano-sized particulate in various environments are prompting researchers to investigate more effective and affordable filters to be used, for example, for the abatement of mobile and stationary diesel emissions, air conditioning, indoor pollution control or individual protection equipments. Typical macro-porous ceramics, in particular ceramic foams, have a low collection efficiency for small dust particles, although they have been extensively used in solid-fluid contact processes in which good fluid mixing degree, increased mass transfer rates and low pressure drop are simultaneously required. A novel development consists in the in-situ growth of nano-wires on the surface of commercially available porous ceramics, via a low cost, effective and versatile method. Porous ceramics play also a vital role in energy generation and storage as catalyst supports, adsorbers, membranes, thermal protection and insulation components; novel processing methods, such as stabilization of foamed slurries via ceramic particles, enable to fabricate large parts in a very wide range of densities, including ultralight components possessing high mechanical strength, therefore extending the range of applications and working conditions in which they can be used. This talk will review the state of the art porous ceramics used in different strategic technological fields, such as environmental management, energy production and storage, and will point out the most promising developments.

Sustainable concrete
Andreas Tselebidis, BASF Corp.

Environmental policy and sustainability are core issues within the concrete construction industry. Producers and contractors are increasingly being expected to preserve natural resources while continuing to produce quality products, and thus are searching for construction methods, practices, and products that will promote these objectives. The shift to an environmentally conscious marketplace requires the innovative development of products, practices and procedures. A new, advanced optimization process for concrete mixes, with its main focus on the Nano scale in materials, allows concrete producers to proportion concrete in a new and revolutionary way that achieves new levels of performance, economics and sustainability. This process utilizes optimized proportions of supplementary cementitious materials, non-cementitious fillers, or both, used with special tailored chemical admixtures to meet or exceed performance targets. The understanding of interactions and material properties at the Nano scale allows manipulating and controlling material characteristics at the macro scale. The result are desired concrete properties in the fresh or hardened state that are met without compromising currently accepted practices while improving the state of the art in concrete technology. This presentation will provide an overview of the advanced mix optimization process. In addition, the presentation will illustrate the use of an Eco-Efficiency Analysis methodology to measure the sustainability of concrete. he results of this analysis allows the comparison of different concrete mixes to enable concrete technologists, scientists, engineers and specifiers to choose a concrete mix with the lowest environmental impact for a project.

Micron-Scale Tunable Acicular Mullite Ceramics for Filtration Applications
Jim O’Brien, Dow Chemical Company

Acicular mullite (ACM) is a breakthrough, disruptive technology platform for ceramic materials science. The interconnected needle morphology and composition of the ACM microstructure enables this material to exhibit outstanding physical properties and performance attributes that are impossible with conventional ceramics, including high strength, melting temperature, chemical stability, porosity, permeability, and tunable pore size. As such, ACM is an ideal candidate material for numerous high performance applications, particularly filtration and catalysis. By controlling the processing conditions used to produce ACM, the acicular microstructure can be easily tuned at the micron-scale to optimize both porosity and pore size for a particular application. For example, a single ceramic ACM precursor formulation can be used to produce substrates of various forms with porosities ranging from 55-85% and pore sizes ranging from 8-30 microns. ACM is an ideal ceramic for use in diesel engine exhaust aftertreatment applications, such as diesel particulate filters, because products based on ACM provide superior filtration efficiency, pressure drop, hysteresis, fuel economy, packaging size reduction and lower exhaust system cost. The ability to tune the material to high porosity and large pore size also enables high catalyst loading without significant impact to pressure drop. DPFs with integrated de-NOx catalytic functionality (selective catalytic reduction filters) exhibit excellent NOx reduction along with outstanding filtration efficiency, pressure drop performance.