Piezoelectric technology converts physical forces into electricity (and vice versa) and is used in industrial sensors and ultrasound scans used in pregnancy. However, according to Ionix, it has not previously been possible to expose piezoelectric devices to extremes such as high temperatures and pressures.
“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,” said Professor Andrew Bell, from the University’s School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME), who headed the research.
The new materials, developed by Dr Tim Comyn and Dr Tim Stevenson in Professor Bell’s group, are compatible with existing manufacturing methods for piezoelectric ceramics and therefore can be mass-produced at similar cost to current materials.
The fundamental science is the same: physical changes to the piezoelectric material’s crystal lattice create an electrical change or, conversely, create physical changes when an electrical current is applied. However, the new ceramics include novel ingredients such as bismuth and iron and have a greatly increased tolerance.
Ionix is initially targeting applications where high temperature operation, up to 500 deg C, provides capabilities not offered by conventional devices.
The potential market in industries such as aerospace, oil and gas and nuclear power is estimated at more than £500m per annum.
The research at Leeds was partly funded by two grants and a PhD studentship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).