Sol-Gel Processing of Ceramics and Glass
Posted on June 26, 2012
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The term "sol gel" was coined in the late 1800s. It generally refers to a low-temperature method using chemical precursors that can produce ceramics and glass with higher purity and better homogeneity than high-temperature, conventional processes. This process has been used to produce a wide range of compositions (mostly oxides) in various forms, including powders, fibers, coatings and thin films, monoliths and composites, and porous membranes. Organic/inorganic hybrids, in which a gel (usually silica) is impregnated with polymers or organic dyes to provide specific properties, also can be made.
One of the most attractive features of the sol-gel process is that it can produce compositions that cannot be created with conventional methods. Another benefit is that the mixing level of the solution is retained in the final product, often on the molecular scale.
The applications for sol gel-derived products are numerous. One of the largest application areas is for coatings and thin films used in electronic, optical and electro-optic components and devices, such as substrates, capacitors, memory devices, infrared (IR) detectors and waveguides. Antireflection coatings also are used for automotive and architectural applications. Protective and decorative coatings have been developed as well for glass, metal and other types of substrates.
Powders of single- and multicomponent compositions can be made with submicron particle size for structural, electronic, dental and biomedical applications. Composite powders have been patented for use as agrochemicals or herbicides. Fibers also can be spun or drawn from precursor solutions or coated with thin films. Both optical and refractory fibers are used for fiber optic sensors and thermal insulation. In addition, sol gel can be used to infiltrate fiber preforms to make composites. Abrasives, used in a variety of finishing processes, are made using a sol-gel type process.
Glass monoliths/coatings and inorganic/organic hybrids have various potential optical applications, including optical filters, chemical sensors, passive and nonlinear active waveguides and lasers. Membranes for separation and filtration processes have been developed, as well as catalysts. More recently, biotechnology applications have been developed in which biomolecules (such as proteins, enzymes, antibodies, etc.) are incorporated into sol-gel matrices. Applications include biochemical processes monitoring, environmental testing, food processing and drug delivery for medicine or agriculture. Other biomedical applications include coatings for metal implants and bone grafting materials. Cosmetic applications include sunscreen lotions and makeup that incorporate UV absorbers.
A previous BCC report, published in 2006, analyzed potential markets and applications. Since then, the industry has continued to develop, as the demand for existing sol-gel applications has expanded and new applications have been commercialized.
STUDY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
This report is an update of the 2006 report, and its goal is to provide the reader with the most current information on the status of and markets for sol-gel technology. Specific objectives of this report include
To provide an overview of the various commercial products made with the sol-gel process and their applications.
To identify the technological and business issues related to the development and commercial production of sol-gel–derived products.
To analyze the domestic and foreign competition among companies involved with sol-gel products and competing products.
To determine the current size and future growth of the total U.S. and worldwide markets for sol-gel products and applications.
To identify and profile companies and other entities involved in the development and commercialization of sol gel-derived products.
This report is directed to producers and users of materials and applications related to sol-gel processing. These include
Companies involved in the development, manufacturing and supplying of advanced materials.
Developers and producers of ceramic powders for electronic and structural applications.
Companies involved in the development and manufacture of structural ceramic components, including composites.
Developers and producers of ceramic and glass fibers.
Producers and suppliers of advanced electronic and optical components and devices.
Producers and suppliers of sensors and sensing devices.
Producers and suppliers of medical implants and dental ceramic/glass materials.
Advanced material companies interested in diversification.
Producers and suppliers of glass and glass components.
Chemical companies supplying alkoxides and other precursor materials.
Venture capital companies and financial institutions interested in new investments.
SCOPE AND FORMAT
The report provides a detailed technology review for sol gel-derived products, including processing methods, properties and applications. Market analyses are provided for each application segment for the U.S. and the world.
METHODOLOGY AND INFORMATION SOURCES
Both primary and secondary research methodologies were used in preparing this report. The conclusions of this report are based on information derived from interviews with experts in the field, including those in industry and academia. Extensive literature, Internet and patent searches were conducted to obtain an overall assessment of the technology. Other information was obtained from trade publications, technical journals, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, European Commission research databases and trade associations. Approximately 120 companies, universities and other institutions were contacted directly.
This report is an update of an earlier (2006) report prepared by Dr. Thomas Abraham. Dr. Abraham was formerly vice president and director of the Advanced Materials Group of BCC. A graduate of Columbia University, Dr. Abraham worked for the University of Denver and Brookhaven National Laboratory prior to joining BCC Research. Dr. Abraham has been a frequent invited speaker on the state of the advanced material industries at American Ceramic Society (ACS) meetings, as well as numerous other conferences and events held by various associations involved in the ceramics and advanced materials industries. One of the most important studies Dr. Abraham undertook was for the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress on the "Strategies for Advanced Ceramic Materials in the U.S."
The analyst responsible for updating the report is Andrew McWilliams, a partner in the Boston–based international technology and marketing consulting firm, 43rd Parallel LLC. Mr. McWilliams is the author or co-author of numerous other BCC studies, including studies in related fields such as AVM025G Diamond, Diamond-Like and CBN Films and Coating Products; NAN015F Advanced Ceramics and Nanoceramic Powders; NAN021E Global Markets for Nanocomposites, Nanoparticles, Nanoclays, and Nanotubes; NAN040A Nanomaterials Markets by Type and AVM008B Synthetic Gems and Minerals.
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