University spin-out develops high-temperature piezoelectric materials
The two-year-old start-up has received funding from IP Group.
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, estimated at more than £500m per annum.
The company has also appointed a new CEO, Dr David Astles who has experience with the multi-national oil and gas company Shell and small company start-ups.
Dr Astles said: “Ionix has developed a set of excellent products which offer a range of exciting potential opportunities. I look forward to working closely with the talented Ionix team to lead the company in the next stage of its commercial development. We are at the start of an exciting new phase in the implementation of this technology and are looking for the right partners to realise its potential.”
The research at Leeds was partly funded by two grants and a PhD studentship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).