One of the hardest materials – Boron Carbide

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Boron carbide (B4C), is among the hardest materials used in manufacturing. Its hard surface and strong chemical bonds minimize wear even in harsh environments. This is why it’s been used to make bulletproof vests, tank armor, and other extreme applications. Its hardness offers excellent protection and its lightweight nature maximizes fluidity. This material also has a high neutron absorbance capacity, making it a good choice for radiation shielding. Therefore, it is widely used in the nuclear and other radiation-producing industries. How is boron carbide used?
Boron carbide (also known as black diamand) is an organic compound. It was discovered by accident in the early 19th century, as a result of research into metal borides. However, scientific research did not start until the 1930s. The reduction of diboron with carbon can be achieved in an electric oven. Boron carbide absorbs a high number of neutrons and does not produce any radioactive isotopes. This makes it an ideal neutron-absorbing material for nuclear power plants. The neutron-absorbing device is responsible for controlling nuclear fission. Boron carbide, which is used in nuclear reactors as controllable rods, is also made into a powder because of its larger surface area. It is used in waterjet cutting and polishing applications due to its high hardness. The powder can be used to dress diamonds.

What is the hardness of boron carbide?
Diamonds do have limitations. And the price is not the only one. Diamonds tend to react chemically and oxidize when heated to high temperatures. Researchers have therefore been looking for (better) materials that are equally hard and can also withstand pressure, temperature, and corrosion. In this field, the majority of research has focused on different materials containing elements C, B, N and O. In general, these elements form short covalent bond with a specific directionality. They are therefore difficult to deform. These elements produce materials that are hard.

Only diamond and cubic boron nitride can surpass it. Only cubic boron and diamond can surpass it. This is why it is used in many extreme applications like bulletproof vests, tank armor, and other forms of protection.

Is boron carbide expensive?
Boron carbide is also used to make tungsten-carbide tools and other wear resistant equipment. The process is time-consuming and energy-intensive, so the cost of boron-carbide products are 10 times higher than those of other ceramic materials which do not resist wear. Because it is cheap and easy to make, boron carbide has become a popular alternative to diamonds and cubic boron. It is used in many places to replace expensive diamonds.

Is boron carbide conductive?
Boron carbide has a melting point of over 2400degC. Its thermoelectric performance in high temperatures above 700degC is also unconventional. It has low electrical resistivity and high Seebeck co-efficient, as well as low thermal conductivity.

Additive Composite of Sweden and Add North 3D, from the United Kingdom, have released a new boron-carbide composite filament that is suitable for radiation shielding. The material is available as Addbor N25 and is composed of boron carbide and a co polyamide matrix.

The new filament created by Additive Composite in Uppsala and Add North 3D, which is a filament developer, leverages anti-radiation qualities of boron carbide, but in a printable format. Uppsala University research also helped to develop the material.
The boron-carbide content of the filament is capable to absorb neutrons from nuclear or research facilities which use radiation sources. Combining the material with an printable polymer matrix allows the Swedish companies to create new products.

Additive composite says: “It is crucial to be able to 3D print complex shapes in order to shield radiation from the stray beams and provide collimated laser beams.”

Adam Engberg, CEO at Additive Composite Uppsala AB said: “Additive Manufacturing is changing the way many products are designed and manufactured.” Addbor N25 is a material that we think contributes to this advancement and can help both the industry and large research institutions to replace toxic substances that may contaminate their environment. “Our new product is one of many radiation shielding materials we are developing.”

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