Aerospace to soar with advanced ceramic materials

Coatings that could cut jet plane CO2 emissions and enable spacecraft to venture further into our solar system are being investigated at Nottingham University.

advanced ceramic materials
A nature inspired flower-like ceramic coating structure for aero engines (Image: Nottingham University)

Dr Tanvir Hussain will use EPSRC fellowship funding of over £2m to find new modelling and processing techniques that will overhaul the design and manufacture of advanced ceramic materials for the next-generation of air and space travel. The long-term goal is to build a Centre of Excellence in Ceramic Coatings at the University.

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In a statement, Dr Hussain, from the Coatings and Surface Engineering Research group, said: “Ceramics are an important group of materials and their processing into aerospace coatings and components requires specialist techniques. Current approaches for new materials discovery and production are wasteful, costly and energy inefficient.”

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced chemistry, Dr Hussain will address the molecular architecture of ceramic materials and tailor their properties and to make them more durable and sustainable.

According to the University, the project aims to produce bespoke ceramic coatings designed and manufactured with thermal, electrical and environmental barrier properties that can be fine-tuned to their desired aerospace applications that include thermal barrier coatings to protect superalloys from high temperatures, and environmental barrier coatings to protect ceramic composites from steam.

Further areas of research will investigate electrolytes for fuel cells and solar cells in auxiliary power generation for electric aircraft, insulating coatings for electric motors for aircraft electrification, plus of aircrafts corrosion and wear-resistant coatings for various critical components in aero-engines.

“The research will lead to the creation of products for the aerospace industry with improved properties, performances and reduced materials processing times; that can be manufactured in large volumes at a fraction of a cost of today’s methods,” said Dr Hussain.

Jet engines operate at very high temperatures to improve thermodynamic efficiency and reduce pollutant emissions, an approach that can reduce the lifespan of the engine and its parts. Ceramics coatings as thin as human hair are already applied to turbine blades that rotate 10,000 times per minute, reaching 1,300oC in operation.

Ceramic material is widely used as a thermal barrier coating on rocket engine nozzles also, but the chemistries and manufacturing methods involved date back to the 1960-70s and are not advanced enough to support commercial space travel. Guided by AI, Dr Hussain will develop new chemistries for ceramic coatings that make rocket engines more efficient and reusable, opening up deep space travel for humans.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Professor Dame Jessica Corner said, “This new EPSRC fellowship is a significant milestone in Nottingham’s ambition to be a recognised centre for excellence in advanced materials engineering. Through innovation, the research will support the post-pandemic recovery of the aerospace sector and positively impact the CO2 efficiency of flight and space exploration in future years.”