In a groundbreaking development, researchers at Wood K Plus, a leading research institute based in Austria, have successfully transformed wood polymer composites (WPC) into high-quality silicon carbide (SiC) ceramics, offering improved sustainability for the production of high-performance, high-temperature parts in power turbines and jet engines.
The breakthrough, part of the BioC4HiTech project funded through the Austrian Production of the Future program, has been hailed as a major step forward in the field of biomaterials. The process involves producing a 95% pure SiC ceramic from a preform that is 50-60% wood, with the researchers claiming that the resulting material offers the same mechanical performance and temperature resistance as standard SiC.
According to Christoph Unterweger, team leader for fibers, carbon and ceramics at Wood K Plus, the main advantage of the new process is improved sustainability. “We are offering basically the same mechanical performance and temperature resistance as standard SiC but with a high bio-based content,” he said in an interview with Ginger Gardiner for Composites World. “The only thing that’s not sustainable at the moment is the novolac phenolic resin. But we are working on replacing the novolac with lignin. And if we used bio-based thermoplastic additives and recycled silicon, then we will have a material made from 100% bio-based, recycled and/or sustainable materials.”
The development comes at a time when sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue in the ceramic world, with more and more companies seeking ways to reduce their environmental impact. Unterweger noted that just five years ago, sustainability was not even an issue in the ceramic world, but that this has changed in recent years. “Now we have requests from different companies because they have no idea how to become more sustainable and we are one of the few institutes who have solutions to offer,” he said.
The researchers at Wood K Plus are continuing to develop their process, with a focus on lifecycle assessment, social LCA and lifecycle costing. They hope that their work will help to pave the way for a more sustainable future for the ceramic industry, as well as other industries that rely on high-performance, high-temperature materials.