Scanning Electron Microscope images of Si3N4 nanofibres. Images by Dr Troy Dougherty, CRL Energy.
CRL Energy and Viclink (Victoria University of Wellington’s commercialisation company) are set to commercialise a new way to make silicon nitride nanofibres that is not only up to 100 times cheaper than current production methods, but will also allow the creation of metal matrix composites that outperform existing metal matrix reinforcing materials (such as silicon carbide powders) on a price/performance basis.
The new method, discovered by researchers at CRL Energy and Victoria University of Wellington, uses low cost feedstock (including New Zealand lignite) for bulk production of high value nanofibres.
“By lowering the manufacturing cost, nanowires will be able to be supplied in large quantities, opening up whole new market opportunities,” explains Prof John Spencer, Head of Victoria University’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, and one of the lead researchers on the project. “The silicon nitride nanofibres could also be suitable for use in a wide variety of non-traditional applications such as polymer composites, ceramic composites, nanofluids, and nanocoatings.”
This technological breakthrough, now the subject of a US Provisional Patent, will provide exciting new opportunities for many industries in New Zealand and overseas.
The Government’s Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) has endorsed the new technology by investing substantial TechNZ funds into developing and optimising the method.
CRL and Viclink are now seeking other partners to:
- Invest in the manufacturing process;
- Develop research partnerships to create new applications for silicon nitride nanofibres;
- Use the nanowires in casting and manufacturing; and
- Partner for fabrication and commercialisation to the global market.
Dr Murray McCurdy, a research scientist at CRL Energy in Lower Hutt, leads the project in association with fellow CRL Energy research scientist Dr Troy Dougherty. Since first discovering the process as a graduate student under the FRST Technology for Industry Fellowship (TIF) scheme, Dr Dougherty has been awarded a PhD in nanomaterials from the University of St Andrews, UK.