Improved domestic and industrial cutting tools, stronger hip joints and better medical instruments should result from latest research looking at ceramic alternatives to steel.
Zirconia as An Alternative to Steel
The key to these advances lies in zirconia, a ceramic with steel-like strength and hardness and high resistance to wear and chemical corrosion. It is potentially well suited to industrial, medical and other uses. Zirconia blades, for example, are much sharper and smoother than conventional steel ones, are better for precision cutting and last up to 50 times longer.
Limitations of Zirconia
To date, zirconia’s use has been limited by its loss of strength and its subsequent cracking when subjected to temperatures of 100-600°C in the presence of water – a process known as hydrothermal degradation. Using state of the art techniques and working at the nanoscale, the research team has inhibited this process by adding trace quantities of materials such as alumina to the zirconia, without compromising its toughness. (One nanometer is one thousand millionth of a metre.) Targeting of the added materials prevents degradation from progressing into the zirconia from its surface.