New piezoelectric material can perform in extreme conditions

A Leeds University spin-out has created piezoelectric materials capable of performing in environments where high temperatures, high pressures, extreme shocks and high stress are common.

The new ceramic materials – a combination of bismuth, iron, titanium and potassium oxides developed by Ionix Advanced Technologies – are to be incorporated into condition monitoring devices that provide capabilities not obtainable with current devices.

Initial applications are expected in systems that have to withstand temperatures up to 500oC.

Dr Tim Comyn, Ionix CTO explained that monitoring of variables in a gas turbine, for example, allows operators to run such systems leaner and more efficiently.

‘As you run more on the ragged edge you need more sensitivity and more sensors to be able to react to things more frequently,’ he said.

The new materials are compatible with existing manufacturing methods for piezoelectric ceramics and can be mass-produced at similar cost to current materials, such as PZT (lead zirconate titanate).

‘If you compare our material to PZT….we’re about half the sensitivity of that but we’re able to address these much higher temperatures,’ said Comyn. ‘There are other high temperature systems available. There are some high temperature materials that have come out of the US, which include things like Scandium…it’s more expensive than platinum and its only extracted in certain places in the world, so there’s a security of supply issue.’

He added that other classes of material are available but they too are expensive due to the novel and complicated way in which they’re made.

According to Leeds University, the potential market for the materials in industries such as aerospace, oil and gas and nuclear power is estimated at over £500m a year.

IP Group has provided funding for Ionix to accelerate the commercialisation of a range of devices based on the new materials and partners are being sought to help with systems integration and device incorporation.

In 2010 the demand for piezoelectric devices was valued at approximately $14.8bn.

‘We’re not necessarily trying to encroach on that,’ said Comyn. ‘We’re trying to develop our own; markets that don’t exist at the moment really because these materials do things that you couldn’t do before.’