Is it possible to create a material that combines the strength of metal, the lightness of plastic and the high operating temperatures of ceramic? Can it be done affordably and with 20 times less energy than that required to produce ceramics? And can such a process have a low carbon foot print? If you said ‘no’ to any of these questions then you haven’t heard about X-MAT®’s revolutionary research.
X-MAT® , the Advanced Materials Division of Semplastics, has been researching and developing a customisable ‘coal core composite’ that combines the best aspects of metal, plastic and ceramic. It can even use waste coal rather than freshly mined coal.
The manufacturing process is surprisingly simple when compared with industrial ceramic manufacturing processes. Instead of using sintering, the raw materials, which include ‘unburned’ coal and polymer resin, are chemically bonded together to produce the new coal core composite material. This uses significantly less energy to create a more durable product and it produces substantially less greenhouse gas.
For those of you with a proclivity for technical details, the X-MAT® coal core composite has a density of 1.3-1.7 g/cc, which makes it lighter than alumina, aluminium, glass, teflon and steel. It can tolerate continuous operating temperatures between -150ºC and 1100ºC meaning it out-performs teflon, polypropylene, aluminium and steel. And it has a specific stiffness of 70, which is below alumina and above glass, teflon, polypropylene, aluminium and steel.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this new material is how customisable it is. The X-MAT® team claims it has ‘unlimited potential market applications’ and based on the impressive range of current custom applications, that doesn’t seem too far-fetched. For example, the material is set to be used as a low-cost space mirror substrate by NASA. And the team is also developing a 3D printable ceramic ink using their new technology.
The team has received several prestigious grants that have supported their research. One of the most recent is a Phase 1 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for ‘coal as value added’. Grants such as this have been allowing the X-MAT® team to bring their new material out of the laboratory and use it to develop solutions to real problems.
The aim of the DOE grant is to produce ceramic-like roof tiles from waste coal using the X-MAT® technology. Initial results indicate the X-MAT®’s flexure strength is 2-4 times greater than commercially available ceramic roof tiles. Yet the X-MAT® tiles are 30% lighter than their ceramic alternatives.
“We chose this topic [for the grant] because the opportunity lined up commercially with the current state of the X-MAT® technology,” said Bill Easter, CEO of X-MAT®. In other words, the team believed their X-MAT® material could be used to create better roofing tiles and the topic of the grant allowed the team to investigate their hypothesis.
And this grant seems to be taking X-MAT® in the right direction. When asked where he sees this technology heading, Bill said “I see the technology heading in 2 directions. In one direction, one has the ability to make high performance designer material systems with very lightweight, high performance characteristics. In the other direction, I see X-MAT® being combined with waste materials to help solve a multitude of environmental problems.”
Bill uses ‘gob’ (waste coal) as an example of the latter. “There are trillions of kgs of gob from 100s of years of coal mining in the US. What does one do with this waste material? How do you clean it up? People are cleaning up the gob piles and burning the recovered coal which makes some people happy to get energy from the waste pile and other people angry that the gob is being burned producing CO2. What if there was another way to use the gob that could sequester the carbon dioxide? What if there was legitimate economic benefit from combining gob with X-MAT® technology?”
Bill thinks X-MAT® is likely to have a big impact on a variety of industries. “On the high-performance end,” he said, “we will impact the energy and electronics industry. On the waste removal end, we will benefit the environment and infrastructure projects.”
I can’t see the future but X-MAT® certainly seems to be an amazing material. This is one of many examples of how science is really driving industrial innovation and I suspect it’s going to fill many gaps (e.g. its use as a ceramic 3D ink) and disrupt a number of industries (like the roofing industry).
If you want to know more about X-MAT®, you can connect with Bill on LinkedIn or chat to him at the 2019 Ceramic’ Expo, which will be held in Cleveland, Ohio in late April – early May — he’ll be speaking at the expo.
Bill Easter is the CEO of X-MAT®, which he founded as a result of his lifelong passion for materials and science and his desire to explore the untapped potential of high-performance materials technology.
Bill is an accomplished entrepreneur and engineer with a scientific background. He has a geology degree from the University of Texas, a degree in Chemical Engineering from Drexel and a Master’s degree in Engineering Sciences from Penn State. Before founding X-MAT® and Semplastics, he worked on microelectronics at AT&T and Bell Labs.