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Sunday, 01 August 2004 23:22

Nanostructured Ceramics: The Nano-Evolution

Nanoceramics Defined: Nanostructured materials, or nanomaterials, can be loosely defined as organic or inorganic matter composed of discrete particles that exist in a variety of shapes including spheres, strands and clusters ranging in size from 1 to 100nm. However, arguments continue to be raised over the definition. Some argue that any material capable of being manipulated at the atomic level is a nanomaterial; or that some materials exist discretely in the slightly larger 250nm range but should nevertheless be defined as nanomaterials. In any case, the definition like so many other aspects of this growing market will be determined by emerging markets and applicability as opposed to pure science.

Currently, there are hundreds of materials being developed on the nanoscale in both pure form and as composites. Examples include carbon, tungsten, titanium, and cobalt, as well as many technical ceramics, such as aluminum oxide (Al2O3), silicon carbide (SiC) as well as their composites. Further, applications for nanomaterials are increasingly growing and include coatings, powder composites used in alloying and doping, as well as solid preforms.

Ceramics, because of their broad physical and electronic capabilities, continue to be advanced as one of the key materials for extensive nanoscale development. Thus, the commercial potential of nanostructured ceramics, or nanoceramics, in pure form and as a composite or coating material is becoming increasingly well-documented, and there are hundreds of companies developing products such as thin-film coatings, cutting tools, engine components and wear parts.

The Market Today

In 2004, the market for nanoceramics is expected to reach nearly $100.0 million worldwide up 12.4% from 2003 (see Exhibit A). (Note: Total value includes not only commercial revenue generated by product sales, but also internal/captive sales, corporate R&D, and government sponsored programs.) The three largest sectors demanding nanoceramics will be the defense/military, electronics and medical/bioscience industries. Combined, these three markets will account for over 50% of the total value followed by the automotive and metal machining markets (see Exhibit B).

Over 70% of commercial demand continues to be in the coatings market, although the market for composite wear parts shows a strong growth rate of nearly 20% annually. The coatings market illustrates the most significant driver behind the advancement of nanomaterials, namely the development of consistent application appropriate technologies. Potential applications for coatings include wear resistant rotating parts such as in machinery or medical prosthetics and thermal barriers for aerospace turbine blades and automobile engines. Successful coating of rotating and wear parts in harsh environments shows an increase in wear, hardness and stability of over 25% in many cases. It also increases general coating strength and material adhesion. However, results have been found to be inconsistent and vary by process and application.

Thus, within the coatings market, application demands dictate the process used in applying the coating as well as process advancements. New technologies are continually being developed employing thermal plasma spraying and HVOF (High Velocity Oxygen Fuels), the two main processes of forming and applying nanomaterial coatings. Briefly, in thermal plasma spraying, a material is heated to its molten form using a torch or furnace and deposited through a jet nozzle onto the substrate material; in HVOF, oxygen and fuel gas create extremely high-temperatures and propulsion velocities, melting the source material, and allowing for a high-density coating. As suggested, the advantages of each type of process is dependent upon application. For example, there has been indications in testing that the HVOF process produces better results in abrasion wear applications within the paper-making and automotive engine parts markets due to substrate material composition and factors of operation. Thus, steps being taken to commercialize each process must clearly account for technical and practical factors, many of which are still being discovered on the nanoscale.

The Nanotech Explosion?

Commercial demand will continue to grow steadily at double-digit levels over the next five years, yet, there are significant hurdles that must be overcome before the realization of a nanotechnology boom. The main market driver will continue to be the development and refinement of technology based on two factors. The first is consistency across fabrication and testing processes; and the second is technological sophistication based on specific application needs and end-user criteria. Once these objectives are met, the next determinant in creating a fully integrated nanoceramics industry will the development of mass-production capabilities and integration of materials and advanced product manufacturing. Many of these phases are being considered concurrently, thus, moving the implementation of mass-scale production within a five to seven year window of opportunity, considering current investment trends by the public and private sectors.

Thus, from 2004-2009, Dedalus Consulting estimates that the world market will grow by a cumulative average annual growth rate of 14.8%. Each market will show strong growth levels ranging from 10.7% to 18.1%, led by the medical/bioscience market. The market will continue to be driven by scientific gains and grow at a healthy 14.8% to reach nearly $900 million by 2009.

This information is based on the report Nanostructured Materials: Developing Markets, Applications & Commercial Opportunities: 2004-2009 Analysis and Forecasts. The report was based on primary and secondary sources including surveying of over 150 scientists, materials suppliers and end-users.

Originally appeared in Ceramic Industry, August, 2004

To read the full article online, please go to: Ceramic Industry News.

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About Dedalus Consulting

Dedalus Consulting Inc. is a privately owned and independently operated market research publisher and consultancy. Our research focuses on both emerging and mature markets in high-technology sectors, including machining & materials, electronic components, life sciences, nanotechnology, mobile communications and photonics.

Research is continually updated through a methodology based on primary interviews with key executives. Companies interviewed include manufacturers, end-users, distributors, and research institutions.

Our clients include Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, financial analysts, and research organizations engaged in the development and manufacturing of advanced technology products and services.