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Extreme piezoelectrics We have a winner! The inventors have picked Noise cancelling Exhaust Pipe / muffler / silencer by Ian Downie as their winner for this competition. Here's what they had to say about Ian's idea:

"This is an extremely novel idea. Ian has truly grasped the important aspects of our material, and his suggested application is ideally suited. This is not something we had considered, is feasible, has a large market, with great potential. In addition, the description Ian has put together, with use of diagrams is extremely elaborate. Thanks a lot!"

The bottom line: While all of this piezoelectric material's properties are competitive with (or superior to) the current gold standard, its most unique property is its high temperature resistance. The key to a successful entry is to find a large-enough market in which this property specifically would provide a competitive advantage. More about this in the "Your mission" section. 
Piezoelectricity refers to the phenomenon of electric charge building up in certain solid materials in response to applied mechanical stress; and vice versa, a shape change can be generated via an applied electric field. Now as a crew of British materials scientist we’ve successfully created the next big thing in piezoelectrics: a material that’s dirt cheap (as cheap as the current market-leader PZT), but which is several-fold more powerful and able to be used at high temperatures and high stresses. And we’re hoping you could find a way to take advantage of these new features by building commercial cases around which new products we could create from it.

Piezoelectric materials are generally ceramics, which are able to (a) change shape when a voltage is applied to them or (b) generate an electrical signal when a force is applied.

As actuators, sensors and transducers (a combination of the former two) they are the irreplaceable heart of systems such as medical ultrasound imaging, vibrational energy harvesting and SONAR comprising a $15bn annual market dominated by one material – PZT. However, application areas are limited because PZT’s properties rapidly degrade above 200°C (or even before, if high stresses are simultaneously applied). That’s where we come in, with a material called HPZ. The physics behind it and the way that it is made is near identical to PZT, but through some clever materials engineering we raised the maximum operating temperature above 350°C (Marblar warning: that’s hot). What’s more:
  • We can achieve a shape change that’s double that of any other piezoelectric (apart from single crystals, which are fragile and hugely expensive, so who care’s about them?)
  • It’s extremely robust
  • The cost (at scale) is the same as PZT.
  • We can optimize the material for high activity (the materials property relating electric field and deformation) or high operating temperature (and any intermediate configuration) by simply altering the mixture – with PZT you need to add extra elements to do this.
What we need from you are some (not too niche) markets for our HPZ that aren’t currently dominated by PZT – i.e. sensor/actuator applications that are only really made possible by our high-performance, high-temperature material or where non-piezo technologies are currently used.

Potential applications
We’ve commercially developed the material for various high temperature applications involving dynamic pressure, acoustic, or ultrasound sensors. There are quite a few other high-temperature applications we’ve considered, but not delved into in much detail, which should give you some ideas where to start looking:
  • Non-destructive ultrasonic testing (NDT) in nuclear, chemical, or process plants
  • Printing (e.g. molten plastics, metal)
  • Valves and actuators – done presently by PZT/magnetic systems (cooled, or at “arms length”, which increases complexity, decreases performance).
  • Automotive and aerospace fuel injection – Not done in aero, current technology for auto uses PZT, but at the ragged edge of performance.
  • Plethora of high-temperature / high-pressure oil and gas applications, incl. NDT, communications, valves. However, PZT is unsuitable for deep, hot oil fields.
  • Energy harvesting (vibration) and accelerometers (shocks) – transport, industry.
  • Morphing structures for e.g. supersonic aircraft without external moving parts. PZT and shape memory alloys currently used in prototypes.
Your mission
We are looking for sizeable application markets (not too niche!) where we can use the specific advantages of our piezoelectric material (usable at higher temperatures, less brittle, more work output) and have a clear competitive advantage compared to the existing technologies used.

We do NOT want to compete head-to-head with existing PZT markets just yet. We need to find the new markets and/or markets where we can replace other non-piezo sensing/transducing/actuating technologies with piezos.

We’re looking for both specific business cases in the general areas described above and completely new applications – with info in each case on:
  • What specific properties should we tailor our material to?
  • What else needs to be considered (e.g. high-temperature electrical connections)?
  • Who would be relevant partners in that specific sector?
Key features
Comparing HPZ directly to PZT, which dominates the piezoelectric market:
  • Roughly double the strength
  • Roughly the same precursor materials, production/post-processing and underlying physics: cheap, easy adoption, reliability
  • Low lead content – 15-25% vs. 65% for PZT
  • Change in shape double that of any previous material (excluding single crystals), work output (strain times stiffness) more than 5x that possible with PZT

Can tune high temperature resistance and high activity by modifying the architecture of the material. Properties lie on the curve shown below with comparisons to competing materials.
  • Very high temperature materials (BLSF, PLS) generally have extremely low activity.
  • BSPT can have both higher activity and temperature resistance than our material, but is extremely expensive. Also, as we can apply higher electric fields to HPZ, we can achieve greater total deformation.
  • Single crystals (other discussed materials are made up of millions of small crystallites) can have extremely high activity – but at 1000x cost and low strength and temperature resistance.

The story behind the science
We (Andrew Bell, Tim Comyn and Tim Stevenson) have been working with piezoelectric ceramics for a combined 40 years. Over the last decade we started working on high temperature systems, in collaboration with the aerospace sector. We have spent much of this time developing new materials and fine-tuning, rooted in a fundamental understanding of the underlying materials science and physics. In the last couple of years we realised that we had developed something truly unique, an enabling technology, with a plethora of potential commercial applications. As much as we love the scientific behind these materials, seeing them being used in real world applications is the ultimate test – and that’s why we’re excited for your input!

More informationWO 2012013956 A1, Authors Comyn, Bell, University of Leeds

J. Bennett, A.J. Bell, T.J. Stevenson, T.P. Comyn , “Exceptionally large piezoelectric strains in BiFeO3–(K0.5Bi0.5)TiO3–PbTiO3 ceramics” Scripta Materialia, 68(7), 491-494, 2012.
Challenge Discussion
Rab Wilson on Jul 12, 2013
I presume the material is a ferroelectric and exhibits a pyroelectric effect couild it be used to harvest energy from ovens or furnaces?
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Ian Downie on Jul 05, 2013
How efficient are Piezoelectric crystals at energy conversion (volts.amps.time to force times distance)?
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mike kernell on Jun 27, 2013
These units need to be made into various contraptions that can be placed on and into structures to send signals when the structure moves o stresses, especially old buildings and bridges to warn of impending fatigue or to map events from natural causes,earthquakes,floods,tsunamis,ect,
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Rab Wilson on Jun 25, 2013
If the ceramic can function at such high temperatures then it would be ideal as a ultrasonic furnace for surprise surprise PZT.
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Gourav Mishra on Jun 22, 2013
It would be very useful in ultrasonic testing of metal parts which are to be checked in running conditions,
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Barry Nicholson on Jun 22, 2013
I would be interested to know if this material could be used to develop an efficient positive displacement pump. A cascade of chambers could potentially replace peristaltic, membrane or progressive cavity pumps for low rate/high pressure.
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Jonathan Taylor on Jun 16, 2013
Would love to see this used for turbulence and velocity measurements of hydrothermal vents. Right now, Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers are used, but the extreme temperature limits more direct in-plum measurement. Unfortunately, I believe this market is too niche for what you are looking for.
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Wayne Martin on Jun 14, 2013
Hi, Tim. I'm not an engineer but have some interesting niches that may be fun for you to explore. First, help me understand some physical properties of your material.

How large can these be made? What geometric forms cannot be produced?

Can you produce a cylinder of the material that gets longer when a voltage is applied? What would be the practical limit of the displacement in front of the cylinder? What would be the pressure generated in PSI?

Can your material be made into a large ring, say a few feet in diameter and an inch in cross section? Can such a ring be tailored to either get larger in diameter when voltage is applied or, with a different tailoring, smaller in diameter when a voltage is applied?

Can your material be made into a fiber?

That should get me up to speed and put my ideas in the ballpark.

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Mark Stevens on Jun 11, 2013
Could these be used to monitor pressure in high temperature settings? Would there be any advantage (more robust/cheaper/simpler) over current methods? Could they also be used as switches for opening vents in high pressure/temperature units to prevent catastrophic failure or even as warning devices for pressure limits. I was thinking that they may be able to be manufactured in a form that suits these devices better than current alternatives.
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Bordford Kwan on Jun 11, 2013
If low lead content and robust, can the material be applied to artificial bones, organs, sensors in medical industry?
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Just to make sure:
With high strain you mean you can increase deformation and the piezo will still work, but PZTs are more sensitive (i.e. with less voltage you get more deformation, only for a smaller range of displacement or, for sensors, PZTs are more sensitive but cover a smaller input range).
So you can measure in a higher range, but with smaller mechanical/electrical force conversion.
Am I right?
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Peter Brewster on Jun 03, 2013
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Peter Brewster on Jun 03, 2013
Could these sustain the massive pressures involved in the power take off from a skyscraper ground anchor?
Tim Stevenson (Inventor) on Jun 03, 2013
Peter, what kind of pressures are involved? In compression, we know these ceramics will survive past 300 MPa at ambient temperature, but we have not gone much further yet. Could you give more details? Thanks. Tim
Peter Brewster on Jun 03, 2013
Sorry not working in industry retired on disability, just something I looked at over 12 years ago, I sure the figures will be available on the pressure involved from wind on ground anchors, will google see what I can find, Nobody seems to be using the Ground anchor as a power take off In determining wind pressures, the basic wind speed is squared; therefore, as the velocity is increased, the pressures are exponentially increased. For example, the uplift load on a 30-foot high roof covering at a corner area of an office building in Exposure B is 37.72 pounds per square foot (psf) with a basic wind speed of 85 mph (per ASCE 7-02). If the speed is doubled to 170 mph, the roof corner load increases by a factor of four to 151 psf. Taken from
worth a look as you will see all over a building are strain points from the wind that you could use.
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Steven Robinette on May 29, 2013
What are the product features that are important in PZT if not robustness to temperature and physical stress?

If you can perform better on the same product specifications that matter to PZT users, Clayton Christensen would say you have a sustaining innovation and not a disruptive innovation. In that case you may be better off partnering with a PZT manufacturer rather than looking for niches with different requirements.
Tim Stevenson (Inventor) on May 29, 2013
PZT is so successful due to its large activity, or sensitivity depending on mode of operation. This can be seen on the chart above. However, modern electronics mean that in the direct mode, a lower charge or voltage generated from these materials can be measured and utilised for the same applications without the requirement for amplification.
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