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Boron carbide (B4C) is one of the hardest materials manufactured on earth. The material is used in a wide range of industrial applications including cutting, grinding and polishing. In the past, boron carbide production was a complex process that required melting and sintering of ingots made by mixing a granular smelting powder with petroleum coke – the carbon source for B4C. This method is expensive, time consuming and introduces contaminants into the product. Researchers at the University of Birmingham have reshaped boron carbide production, by developing a new process that uses lower temperatures and fewer contaminants.
The method involves subjecting a mixture of smelting powders, which contain excess of boric acid and carbonizing binder, to heat treatment. The resulting powder is then crushed into small flakes and melted in a furnace.
Microwave carbothermal reduction is fast, inexpensive and effective for synthesising well crystallized nanostructured equiaxial boron carbide. Moreover, the reaction is sensitive to the precursors content and the power level of microwave irradiation. The reactivity falls drastically when the starting molar ratio of B2O3 is increased. However, the synthesis at higher power levels resulted in boron carbide particles with close to planed stoichiometry.
The global boron carbide market is dominated by the Asia Pacific region, accounting for over 50% of the overall revenue. The growth of the regional market is mainly driven by increased defense spending, particularly in Japan, which is likely to boost the segment during the forecast period.