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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials July 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rory Marrast

Cost-Effective Anionic Adsorbents

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers are developing low-cost ceramic filters that can remove harmful anionic (negatively charged) chemical species that are present in high concentrations in the drinking water of developing countries.

Description

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have developed a low-cost granular ceramic-filtration system to remove arsenate ions and chromate ions—two chemical health hazards—from drinking water.

The researchers mixed red art clay with recycled-paper fibers and water before heating the mixture in a kiln at a constantly increasing temperature for several days. The team then broke the resulting solid into smaller blocks and reheated them in a solution of lanthanum nitrate, forming a lanthanum compound layer on the surface of the ceramic filter.

The hybrid ceramic-filtration system demonstrates enhanced performance in adsorbing arsenate ions and chromate ions from water systems. The researchers discovered that the optimal adsorption of the anionic species occurs at 385°C. At this temperature, the system adsorbs the arsenate ions and the chromate ions at 23 milligrams per gram (mg/g) and 13 mg/g, respectively. The ceramic system also demonstrates resilience to changes in conditions. For example, the system inhibits adsorption during changes in pH and in the presence of hydrocarbonate ions and sulfate ions.

Implications

The novel ceramic from the University of Wisconsin holds promise as an economical filtration system. Material characterizations performed by the researchers suggest that the lanthanum functionalization of the ceramic is pivotal for the removal of chromate ions and arsenate ions from contaminated water. Nevertheless, environmentally relevant studies of the filter's performance are necessary to establish the real-world benefits of the filter in removing toxic chemicals from drinking water.

Ceramic filters are well suited for replacing polymer filters in water-treatment applications because of their inherently superior chemical resistivity. Previously, low-cost ceramic filters have seen applications in developing regions. For example, the Potters of Peace program has been using local resources in North Africa and South America to develop and distribute silver-enhanced ceramic-filtration systems that remove 98% of bacteria from drinking water. However, rising industrialization in developing countries is intensifying the necessity for cheap and effective filtration systems that remove the growing concentrations of poisonous chemicals (as well as bacterial agents) present in drinking water.

The energy-intensive processes necessary to create some ceramics can make ceramic filters expensive relative to polymer alternatives. However, the novel use of readily available red clay and the cheap fabrication process could circumvent cost barriers while still producing a fully functional filtration system.

Impacts/Disruptions

Government and nongovernment organizations constantly seek effective and economically viable technology solutions that can reduce the presence of contaminants in the water of developing countries. The University of Wisconsin's functionalized ceramic filters may provide a solution for some contaminants. However, filter systems that cover a wider spectrum of pollutants are necessary and likely to experience the most interest from organizations and governments.

Developing regions with growing rates of industrialization are likely to experience increased pollutants levels that extend beyond arsenate and chromate—for example, with the rapid industrial development of China, cadmium levels in Lake Taihu are likely to rise to 2015 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg) in 2030 (pre-2000 levels were 805 µg/kg). Filtration systems are not alone enough to mitigate rising water pollution—international policies concerning water pollution must evolve to reduce the output of chemicals to water supplies.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Water filtration, gas filters, remediation, water purification

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Metal-Droplet Additive Manufacturing

Why is this topic significant?

A somewhat new additive-manufacturing technology may outpace current metal-manufacturing technologies and offer large-scale and economic fabrication of metal parts.

Description

Manufacturers are always seeking new and alternative manufacturing technologies that can offer superior functionality alongside lower operational costs. Xerox recently acquired Vader Systems—a metal additive-manufacturing (AM) company—along with its magnetohydrodynamic-printing (MHP; a form of metal-droplet printing) technology. MHP feeds metal wire into a heated chamber of the printing head that melts the wire and uses electromagnetic fields to extrude metal droplets through the printing head. The droplets solidify on a substrate and form a metal structure, drop by drop, in a precise manner. The machine can deposit 1,000 drops per second.

MHP offers a printing method alternative to powder-bed methods—which involve spreading a metal powder onto a substrate and using either a metal binder or a laser from the printing head to create a metal structure layer by layer (powder-bed methods include selective laser sintering, selective heat sintering, electron-beam melting, and multijet fusion). The metal-wire feedstock that sees use in MHP is considerably cheaper than the metal-powder feedstock in powder-bed methods. MHP's future development may enable the economical fabrication of large parts—for example, aircraft wings—that would otherwise cost millions of dollars with powder-bed technology.

Implications

Metal AM is a maturing technology that could disrupt manufacturing. New additive-manufacturing companies are realizing the potential of metal AM and seek new investment opportunities to expand and better compete with industry leaders Hewlett Packard, Stratasys, and 3D Systems, which currently offer commercial metal printers.

Although MHP offers a cheaper feedstock, its application is currently limited to zinc, aluminum, and aluminum alloys because of the engineering barriers that prevent the printer from reaching sufficiently high temperatures to melt wires of various metal compositions. Xerox's developers have made progress in expanding the application of the technology by using MHP to print aluminum-based circuit boards. Xerox expects MHP to support steel and nickel alloys in the future. Further engineering advances that enable MHP machines to reach higher temperatures (to enable the extrusion of different metals) are essential for positioning MHP as a viable general-purpose manufacturing technology and for disrupting current injection-molding and computer-numerical-control manufacturing processes.

Impacts/Disruptions

Analysts from Reports and Data expect the overall global additive-manufacturing market (including metal AM) to increase in value from $7.97 billion in 2018 to $23.33 billion in 2023. However, the analysts also identify the expense of additive manufacturing as a barrier to the technology's replacing current mass-production technologies. The lower cost of the metal-wire feed material in MHP may present new opportunities for additive-manufacturing processes to replace current manufacturing technologies. Additionally, an engineering breakthrough that can enable a wider metal choice in MHP could increase the rate of commercialization of the technology and increase the technology's competitiveness with powder-bed methods (which can already print a multitude of metals).

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Additive manufacturing, metal fabrication, machining

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: