Advanced ceramics target aerospace gains

Researchers at Nottingham University are exploring advanced ceramic coatings that could help reduce aircraft emissions and enhance space exploration.

Dr Tanvir Hussain from Nottingham’s Coatings and Surface Engineering Research group has received £2m in funding via an EPSRC Fellowship to investigate potential new materials using AI and advanced chemistry. The project is aiming 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, including thermal coatings to protect superalloys from high temperatures and environmental coatings to protect ceramic composites from steam.

“Ceramics are an important group of materials and their processing into aerospace coatings and components requires specialist techniques,” said Dr Hussain. “Current approaches for new materials discovery and production are wasteful, costly and energy inefficient.”

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, and wear-resistant coatings for various critical components in aero-engines.

Jet engines operate at extremely high temperatures to improve thermodynamic efficiency and reduce pollutant emissions, but these temperatures exert intense stress on the engine and its parts. Ceramic coatings as thin as a human hair are already applied to turbine blades that rotate 10,000 times per minute, reaching 1,300°C during flight.

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

“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.