Beryllium, beryllium alloys, beryllium carbide, and carbon are the ingredients of a class of nanophase Be/Be2C/C composite materials that can be formulated and functionally graded to suit a variety of applications. In a typical case, such a composite consists of a first layer of either pure beryllium or a beryllium alloy, a second layer of B2C, and a third layer of nanophase sintered carbon derived from fullerenes and nanotubes. The three layers are interconnected through interpenetrating spongelike structures.

These Be/Be2C/C composite materials are similar to Co/WC/diamond functionally graded composite materials, except that (1) W and Co are replaced by Be and alloys thereof and (2) diamond is replaced by sintered carbon derived from fullerenes and nanotubes. (Optionally, one could form a Be/Be2C/diamond composite.) Because Be is lighter than W and Co, the present Be/Be2C/C composites weigh less than do the corresponding Co/WC/diamond composites. The nanophase carbon is almost as hard as diamond.

WC/Co is the toughest material. It is widely used for drilling, digging, and machining. However, the fact that W is a heavy element (that is, has high atomic mass and mass density) makes W unattractive for applications in which weight is a severe disadvantage. Be is the lightest tough element, but its toughness is less than that of WC/Co alloy. Be strengthened by nanophase carbon is much tougher than pure or alloy Be. The nanophase carbon has an unsurpassed strength-to-weight ratio.

The Be/Be2C/C composite materials are especially attractive for terrestrial and aerospace applications in which there are requirements for light weight along with the high strength and toughness of the denser Co/WC/diamond materials. These materials could be incorporated into diverse components, including cutting tools, bearings, rocket nozzles, and shields. Moreover, because Be and C are effective as neutron moderators, Be/Be2C/C composites could be attractive for some nuclear applications.

This work was done by Oleg A. Voronov and Gary S. Tompa of Diamond Materials Inc. for Johnson Space Center.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2003 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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