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Vienna, Austria (SPX) May 07, 2014
A Surprise in Materials Chemistry: At Vienna University of Technology, materials for lightweight construction, protective clothing or sports equipment can be produced at high temperatures and high pressures. This process is faster, better and more eco-friendly than other techniques.
The earth's crust works like a pressure cooker. Minerals typically do not form under standard conditions, but at high temperatures and pressures. However, an environment of extreme heat and pressure has been considered to be absolutely unsuitable for organic molecules.
Scientists at Vienna University of Technology found out that under such seemingly hostile conditions, organic materials with remarkable material properties can be synthesized - for instance Kevlar, an extremely versatile high-performance material.
Steam Instead of Toxins
The principle of so-called "hydrothermal synthesis" is well known from geology. Many gemstones only form deep down in the ground, in high-pressure water reservoirs. In contrast to these inorganic minerals, which are often mainly made up of silicon and metal ions, many high-performance materials are organic. They primarily consist of carbon and hydrogen.
Kevlar is an example of such a high-performance polymer. It is extraordinarily robust and it is used for protective clothing or for construction elements that are supposed to withstand extreme strain. Such materials also play an important role in aircraft construction, because they are much lighter than any metal parts with comparable properties. Organic high-performance polymers are huge organic molecules with a very stiff structure, kept in place by a multitude of bonds between the atoms.
Extremely Durable, but Hard to Synthesize
The technique developed at TU Vienna works quite differently: the polymers are forming and are crystallizing simultaneously, uniquely supported by hydrothermal conditions.
There are many advantages to this procedure: no dangerous byproducts are created, the energy consumption is dramatically reduced, and the synthesis in the pressure reactor is much faster than it would be using any other techniques. Also, the final product is better: "Our method yields materials with higher crystallinity, which further improves the mechanical rigidity", says Miriam Unterlass.
Looking Inside with Infrared Light
With the new high-temperature IR-probe - it is one of only two such devices worldwide - it will become easier to develop even more synthetic techniques. The team has plenty of ideas: "There is a plethora of organic molecules which promise great material properties if we manage to polymerize them", says Miriam Unterlass.
Vienna University of Technology
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
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