Spark plasma sintering (SPS) is a revolutionary high-speed powder consolidation technology of broad application potential. During SPS, the precursor powders are typically loaded in a graphite die and fast heating is achieved by passing a pulsed DC electrical current through the die and the sample while uniaxial pressure is applied on the powder. The characteristics of SPS processing include high heating rates, the application of pressure during the sintering and the tunability of the microstructure via variable pulsed electrical currents. The essential advantages of SPS-based technologies over conventional sintering methods are lower sintering temperatures, shorter exposure to elevated temperatures, no need for binder or additives as well as important improvements in the mechanical and physical properties of the sintered materials.
Successful installation of SPS in the Laboratory for Solid State Chemistry and Catalysis, Empa will provide the open opportunity to harvest the necessary knowledge to start-up new science and technology for the development of innovative materials. The main purpose of using SPS is to produce a wide range of innovative materials that so far had not been possible to synthesize and/or to consolidate by conventional sintering methods. For example, SPS will be used for the sintering of ceramic materials such as oxynitride perovskites for photoelectrochemical water splitting, nanostructured ruthenates for electronic applications, intermetallics for thermoelectric converters, titanates for memristor materials, carbon nanotube composite materials for battery applications.
SPS also has huge potential for industrial application as it is a scalable, energy-saving sintering method allowing rapid manufacturing of monophasic nano-scaled materials and composites. Therefore, SPS will be not only used as versatile equipment for fundamental R&D purposes but also for industrial-scale production of nanostructured materials.
As no SPS apparatus has been installed in Switzerland up to now, cooperation with different partners will benefit academies, national institutes and industry involved with material science & engineering and solid state chemistry & physics. On the one hand, SPS allows the production of innovative materials which could not be synthesized with conventional methods and, on the other hand, will be crucial for materials testing and research with the objective of developing more cost-efficient production methods for improved sintered materials.