New Materials Boost Device Durability in Harsh Environments

Researchers from the University of Leeds have announced new piezoelectric materials capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures, pressure and stress may soon transform industry’s ability to utilize electronics in harsh environments.

The new materials will be produced by University of Leeds spin-off company Ionix Advanced Technologies Ltd, which was incorporated in October 2011 by the researchers and received funding for commercialization this month.

Piezoelectric technology, which utilizes the conversion of physical stress into electricity and vice versa, is not a new concept. A number of devices—such as ultrasound machines, electric cigarette lighters, industrial sensors and high-performance diesel engines—across a variety of fields incorporate piezoelectricity to function.

However, say the Leeds researchers, until now it not been possible to expose piezoelectric devices to extreme temperatures and pressures, somewhat limiting their applications. The new materials offer a solution to this problem.

“Our materials work in environments where the conventional technology fails: high temperatures, high pressures, extreme shocks and high stress. In a gas turbine, for instance, if you want to put in a sensor to make sure nothing is going wrong, you need a piezoelectric material that can withstand extremely high temperatures, pressures or vibrations,” head researcher Andrew Bell, a professor from the University’s School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME), said.

While the fundamental science remains the same, the researcher say, the new materials designed for harsh environments include additional ingredients such as bismuth and iron to increase their tolerance and durability. The new materials are compatible with existing manufacturing methods for piezoelectric ceramics and so can be mass-produced at similar cost to current materials.

Ionix is reportedly focusing initially on incorporating the new materials in high temperature applications—up to 500°C—where conventional piezoelectric devices cannot function.


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