[Image above] Credit: SuperJet International; Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Despite questions about the health of the global ceramics market, high-purity materials like silicon carbide are doing well—really well.
Take for example this recent profile story in Forbes about the Coors family, whose innovation in ceramic materials, including silicon carbide, helped build the CoorsTek empire.
Here’s another indicator: Aviation giant GE Aviation recently announced that it’s investing more than $200 million to build a pair of new factories focused solely on silicon carbide manufacturing.
The two factories, situated on 100 acres in Huntsville, Ala., will each churn out either silicon carbide fibers or silicon fiber tape that will be used to make jet engines and land-based gas turbines, according to a BusinessWire press release.
The news definitely means big things for ceramic materials—the strategic move is allowing GE Aviation to boost its capacity to produce ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), the materials being incorporated into increasingly efficient next-gen engines.
“Establishing the new GE factories in Alabama is a very significant step in developing the supply chain we need in order to produce CMC components in large volume,” Sanjay Correa, vice president of GE Aviation’s CMC Program, says in the release.
For more CMC perspective from Correa, read Eileen’s recap of his talk and more at the 11th CMCEE in Vancouver, Canada, earlier this year.
NGS Advanced Fibers—a joint company of Nippon Carbon, GE, and Herakles Safran France—currently operates the world’s only large-scale silicon carbide fiber manufacturing facility in Japan, so GE’s upcoming fiber factory in Alabama will significantly boost silicon carbide supply.
The GE factory will directly extend that supply by licensing manufacturing technology from NGS Advanced Fibers. In addition, the fiber factory received funding from the U.S. Air Force Research Lab Title III Office, which is “government-funded venture that aides manufacturers who specialize in materials used for defense applications.”
According to the press release, the factory will eventually produce silicon carbide fibers for the Department of Defense, GE, NGS Advanced Fibers partner Herakles Safran, and “other outside customers subject to U.S. regulations.”
In contrast, the silicon carbide tape factory is solely a GE endeavor. The facility “will apply proprietary coatings to the ceramic fiber and form them into a matrix to produce CMC tape,” which will be used at GE’s CMC manufacturing facility in Asheville, N.C.
Construction on the silicon carbide factories will begin mid-2016, and they are expected to begin operations in 2018.