Scientists have reinvented a 26,000-year-old manufacturing process into an innovative approach to fabricating ceramic materials widely used in batteries, electronics, and extreme environments. Conventional ceramic sintering (part of the firing process used in the manufacture of ceramic objects) often requires hours of processing time. An ultrafast, high-temperature sintering method was developed that both meets the needs of modern ceramics and fosters the discovery of new material innovations.
Conventional sintering techniques require a long processing time — it takes hours for a furnace to heat up, then several hours more to bake the ceramic material — which is particularly problematic in the development of electrolytes for solid-state batteries. Alternative sintering technologies (such as microwave-assisted sintering, spark plasma sintering, and flash sintering) are limited for a variety of reasons, often because they are material-specific and/or expensive.
The new method of ultrafast, high-temperature sintering offers high heating and high cooling rates, even temperature distribution, and sintering temperatures of up to 3,000 °C. Combined, these processes require less than 10 seconds of total processing time — more than 1,000 times faster than the traditional furnace approach of sintering.
A pressed green pellet of ceramic precursor powders was sandwiched between two strips of carbon that quickly heated the pellet through radiation and conduction, creating a consistent high-temperature environment that forced the ceramic powder to solidify quickly. The temperature is high enough to sinter basically any ceramic material — the process can be extended to other membranes beyond ceramics.