Engineer patents waterlike polymer to create high-temperature ceramics

March 30, 2017

MANHATTAN, KANSAS -- Ceramic textiles, improved jet engine blades, 3-D printed ceramics and better batteries may soon become a reality, thanks to a recently patented polymer from a Kansas State University engineer.

Using five ingredients -- silicon, boron, carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen -- Gurpreet Singh, Harold O. and Jane C. Massey Neff associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, has created a liquid polymer that can transform into a ceramic with valuable thermal, optical and electronic properties. The waterlike polymer, which becomes a ceramic when heated, also can be mass-produced.

"This polymer is a useful material that really works," Singh said. "Of all the materials that we have researched in the last five years, this material is the most promising. Now we can think of using ceramics where you could never even imagine."

Singh is the lead inventor of the patent, "Boron-modified silazanes for synthesis of SiBNC ceramics." Romil Bhandavat, 2013 doctoral graduate in mechanical engineering, is a co-inventer.

The engineers developed the clear polymer that looks like water and has the same density and viscosity as water, unlike some other silicon- and boron-containing polymers.

"We have created a liquid that remains a liquid at room temperature and has a longer shelf life than other SiBNC polymers," Singh said. "But when you heat our polymer, it undergoes a liquid to solid transition. This transparent liquid polymer can transform into a very black, glasslike ceramic."

Ceramics are valuable because they withstand extreme temperatures and are used for a variety of materials, including spark plugs, jet engines, high-temperature furnaces or even space exploration materials.

As a preceramic polymer, Singh said the liquid material has several important properties. "Often, researchers have only looked at high-temperature properties," Singh said. "We are among the few that looked at other properties -- such as electronic, electro-chemical, thermal and optical properties -- and exposed these properties in this material."

Singh's research has been supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology radiometry team and the National Science Foundation. He is continuing to research the polymer's possibilities for making ceramic fibers and even battery electrodes.

The patent was issued to the Kansas State University Research Foundation, a nonprofit corporation responsible for managing technology transfer activities at the university.
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Kansas State University

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