HOUSTON - (Oct. 7, 2013) - Atomically thin sheets of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) have the handy benefit of protecting what's underneath from oxidizing even at very high temperatures, Rice University researchers have discovered.
One or several layers of the material sometimes called "white graphene" keep materials from oxidizing - or rusting -- up to 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit), and can be made large enough for industrial applications, they said.
The Rice study led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou appears today in the online journal Nature Communications.
Oxidation prevention is already big business, but no products available now work on the scale of what the Rice lab is proposing. The researchers see potential for very large sheets of h-BN only a few atoms thick made by scalable vapor deposition methods.
"We think this opens up new opportunities for two-dimensional material," said Lou, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. "Everybody has been talking about these materials for electronic or photonic devices, but if this can be realized on a large scale, it's going to cover a broad spectrum of applications."
Lou said ultrathin h-BN protection might find a place in turbines, jet engines, oil exploration or underwater or other harsh environments where minimal size and weight would be an advantage, though wear and abrasion could become an issue and optimum thicknesses need to be worked out for specific applications.
It's effectively invisible as well, which may make it useful for protecting solar cells from the elements, he said. "Essentially, this can be a very useful structural material coating," Lou said.
The researchers made small sheets of h-BN via chemical vapor deposition (CVD), a process they said should be scalable for industrial production. They first grew the thin material on nickel foil and found it withstood high temperature in an oxygen-rich environment. They also grew h-BN on graphene and found they could transfer sheets of h-BN to copper and steel with similar results.
"What's amazing is that these layers are ultrathin and they stand up to such ultrahigh temperatures," Ajayan said. "At a few nanometers wide, they're a totally non-invasive coating. They take almost no space at all."
Lead authors are Rice postdoctoral researcher Zheng Liu and graduate student Yongji Gong. Co-authors are Rice graduate student Lulu Ma and Senior Faculty Fellow Robert Vajtai; Wu Zhou, a Wigner Fellow, and Juan Carlos Idrobo, a staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Jingjiang Yu of Agilent Technologies; Jeil Jung, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin; and Allan MacDonald, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Ajayan is the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and of chemistry at Rice.
The Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Welch Foundation, the Korean Institute of Machinery and Materials, the National Science Foundation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Department of Energy supported the research.
Read the abstract at http://www.
This news release can be found online at http://news.
Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews
Ajayan Group: http://www.
N3L Research Group (Lou): http://mems.
Rice technique points toward 2-D devices: http://news.
Hexagonal boron nitride sheets may help graphene supplant silicon: http://news.
Images for download:
Rice University researchers have discovered that sheets of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) as little as one atom thick can protect metals in harsh environments at up to 1,100 degrees Celsius. The top image shows uncoated nickel oxidized after exposure to high temperature in an oxygen-rich environment. The second shows nickel exposed to the same conditions with a 5-nanometer coat of h-BN. The third shows electron microscope images of two, three, four and many-layer h-BN films. The bottom image of an h-BN sheet shows the hexagonal arrangement of nitrogen (bright) and boron atoms. (Credit: Zheng Liu/Rice University)
Rice University researchers have discovered that sheets of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) as little as one atom thick can protect metals in harsh environments at up to 1,100 degrees Celsius. The left image shows uncoated nickel oxidized after exposure to high temperature in an oxygen-rich environment. Second from left, nickel exposed to the same conditions with a 5-nanometer coat of h-BN. The third image shows electron microscope images of two, three, four and many-layer h-BN films. The right image of an h-BN sheet shows the hexagonal arrangement of nitrogen (bright) and boron atoms. (Credit: Zheng Liu/Rice University)
Rice University researchers have discovered that hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) can keep metals from rusting in high temperatures. At top, electron microscope images show uncoated nickel foil oxidized after half an hour in oxygen-rich conditions in a furnace at 1,100 degrees Celsius. At bottom, a transparent 5-nanometer coat of h-BN protects nickel subjected to the same conditions. (Credit: Zheng Liu/Rice University)
Rice University researchers claim ultrathin sheets of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) can keep metals from rusting in high temperatures. At top, stainless steel oxidizes after half an hour in a furnace. At bottom, a sheet of h-BN protects steel subjected to the same temperatures. (Credit: Zheng Liu/Rice University)
Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,708 undergraduates and 2,374 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 2 for "best value" among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go to http://tinyurl.