Market Trends: Advanced and Nanoscale Ceramic Powders on the Rise
The global market for advanced and nanoscale ceramic powders is expected to grow to $12.1 billion by 2018.
The global market for advanced and nanoscale ceramic powders is expected to grow to $12.1 billion by 2018, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2%, according to “Advanced Ceramics and Nanoceramic Powders,” a recent report from BCC Research, a publisher of technology market research reports based in Wellesley, Mass. The nanoceramic category is the fastest moving segment in this market, growing at a significant CAGR of 13.5%.
Advanced ceramic and nanoceramic powders—oxides, carbides, nitrides, and borides—are sold as starting materials for solid commercial articles. “Oxides are by far the highest value of the advanced ceramic powders and ceramic nanopowder market, with over 80% of the market value,” said William Davison, Ph.D., analyst. “Nanopowders are expected to command an increasing market share, from over 10% in 2013 to nearly 20% by 2018. Carbides, nitrides, and borides are expected to retain a market share totaling less than 5%.” These powders enable technology critical to a wide range of applications, including electronic devices and systems, high-temperature applications, and applications such as abrasives, cutting tools, and guide fixtures.
The advanced ceramics category, the largest segment in the overall market, is expected to grow to nearly $10 billion by 2018 and register a CAGR of 5%. However, the nanoceramic segment, which was valued at just about $958 million in 2012, is expected to jump to $2.1 billion in 2018.
“Advanced ceramics are a significant category of engineered materials pushing the performance of technology-based components and systems,” said Davison. “The market for these materials is beginning to expand at pre-2009 recession levels, including certain segments that had experienced slow growth due to conservative business planning and exhaustion of existing inventory stocks.”
The Evolution of Advanced Ceramics
Advanced ceramic and nanoceramic powders generally refer to inorganic nonmetallic granular materials that are fabricated from chemical processes, as differentiated from what are termed industrial minerals. The latter group is mined directly from the earth and purified and reduced in size to particular specifications.
The origination of advanced ceramic powders in the post-World War II era was due to two factors: a need for higher purity of ceramics for dielectric applications, and a need for a lower- and smaller-size defect population for higher-temperature performance parts. These properties were not obtainable with processed minerals and therefore necessitated starting powder production by chemical precipitation and other methods. The fact that precipitated aluminum oxide (alumina) is an intermediate via the Bayer Process in the Hall-Heroult plating of aluminum metal contributed an already existing advanced ceramic powder for use in advanced ceramic applications.
From the initial uses of alumina powder for ceramic substrates, where reproducible electric properties were required, use of precipitated powders spread to areas such as the barium titanate family of high-dielectric-constant capacitor materials, where in order to produce the proper ceramic material, pure small-particle-size precursors of barium and titanium oxides are necessary. Structural ceramics such as silicon carbide and silicon nitride had long been identified as favorable materials in high-temperature strength applications, but due to the small internal or surface defect size of these materials (which can cause fracture), more uniform, chemically pure starting materials became desired than were commonly available in the mid-20th century.
The two critical properties of advanced ceramic powders that dominate the quality of fabricated ceramics derived from them include particle size distribution and chemical purity. The use of chemical precipitation or other controlled powder synthesis techniques enable the tailoring of particle size, size distribution and shape, while purity can be established at the level of the starting chemicals used in powder manufacturing. These properties are important in controlling every step of the ceramic manufacturing process, including ceramic slurry rheology, particle compaction during pressing, initially formed article (green body) strength and drying behavior, microstructure development during heat treatment (sintering) and any subsequent annealing, and the properties of the finished part. The latter include the critical performance properties of the finished part, for which controlled starting powder is necessary.
The combination of the factors of reduced production costs and identification of appropriate markets has enabled nanoscale ceramic powders to find a commercial presence. Initially only obtainable in microgram quantities via vapor phase condensation techniques, more economical production methods have surfaced, including those adapted from chemical precursor methods developed for ceramic powders.
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