I’ve covered the topic of thin, tough, bendable ceramic sheets and foils in the past, and a lot of what I have seen until now has been in the early developmental stages. However, as can be seen in the videos above and below, a company in New York State, ENrG, has been seeking commercial opportunities after perfecting their ability to produce these 3%mol YZT foils in a variety of shapes and production sizes (currently the largest is 10 cm x 15 cm), including foils that are 40 micrometers thick. Foils as thin as 20 μm are anticipated for later in 2012.
Foils like these are not useful by themselves (aside from instilling some awe in the materials community), but they are expected to be a highly useful enabling platform for any application that would require a ceramic membrane. Kathy Olenick, director of technical applications for ENrG, tells me that opportunities for using these foils is wide open because they have so many useful properties. “The idea is, for example, that you can have a flexible support that is dielectric, too,” says Olenick. “Instead of applying a dielectric material onto a substrate, the foils have it already integrated with support. In addition, the foil’s ability to retain its electrical and mechanical properties through thermal cycling makes it a prime materials for electrolyte-supported fuel cells.”
Olenick says the foil’s other properties open some unprecedented materials choices for applications engineers, especially where there are high temperatures and chemically harsh environments. And, the translucency, for example, means it is easy to align double-sided coatings. She says the foils are essentially transparent at mid-IR range wavelengths. She also notes that custom textures can be given to the foils, and holes can be added in the green state if air or fuel passages need to be structured. (The foils are made by tape casting followed by sintering.)
In particular, Olenick touts her company’s Thin E-Strate product (pdf) as having a good potential for thin-film photovoltaic applications. Along these lines, she says that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recently gave ENrG an award to explore the product’s potential in the solar energy markets. She says Thin E-Strate would be a more efficient backing for solar cells than materials used currently.
The flexibility of the product apparently causes some doubletakes. Olenick says, “When ceramic technologists see Thin E-Strate at our trade shows or in our video, they question if it’s really a ceramic!”
John Olenick, who also works at ENrG, made a 20-minute presentation on the foils and the company’s capabilities at the 2012 ICACC meeting held in January. For anyone wishing to know more about the technology, he has converted his ICACC presentation into a “Brainshark” online presentation (an oral presentation combined with a video version of PowerPoint). This Brainshark presentation requires an “invitation”-type password, but company officials say they will be happy to provide a free invitation to any interested parties.
The ENrG website says the company has received support in the past from NYSERDA and NIST to work on large-area ceramic fuel cell development and fabrication capabilities.