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Advanced Materials

Introduction

KACST plays a leading role in many fields related to materials science and its strategies and seeks to transfer modern technologies in this sector and localize them in the Kingdom.

 

Introduction

KACST has realized the importance of materials science and its wide and promising applications in all industrial fields. Through the Material Science Research Institute (MRSI), KACST has worked on promoting research and development in many fields related to this sector, equipping laboratories, constructing infrastructure, and developing cooperation with various local and international scientific centers, with the aim of developing new technologies that contribute to the Kingdom’s economy and enhance its competitive position in this sector.

The institute plays a leading role in supporting the advanced materials technology, which links the structure and the composition of the internal material with its properties and uses.

Non-destructive tests were carried out at the MSRI which enabled researchers to identify the structure and characteristics of materials and to investigate the defects within them, so as to be able to improve their properties. This facilitates the development of technology, and the ability of materials and facilities to perform required functions during their service and operation.

The institute also aims to conduct research related to the petroleum and petrochemical industries which depend on the exploitation of natural resources in the Kingdom. It will monitor the progress of refining and petrochemical operations in order to support the industrial infrastructure and enhance self-sufficiency in research and development in the Kingdom. The institute plays a leading role in conducting joint research to find innovative technical solutions in the field of construction technology, that can help meet local and global demand. It also conducts national and applied research in areas where nanotechnology can be employed to develop various sectors such as energy, water, and telecommunications.

Projects

The modern day conveniences such as consumer devices and electric vehicles created an increasing demand for electrical energy production and storage systems. Those systems in turn have created a demand for a variety of elements including lithium, uranium and rare earth metals, which are used in lithium-ion batteries, nuclear power plants and solar cells respectively.

The demand for these elements is presently met by mining ore deposits in the Earth’s crust. However, this approach has several drawbacks:

The distribution of mineral resources is uneven, some of which is located in difficult-to-access regions.

The industrial-scale extraction and processing of ore has a substantial negative impact on the environment.

The available deposits of some scarce elements may not be sufficient to meet the increasing demands.

The oceans contain an enormous quantity of dissolved elements (including lithium, gold, silver, and rare earth elements) representing a possible alternative source for these industrially important resources. However, the concentration of the most valuable elements in seawater is low, and thus, large amounts of water must be processed to recover sizable amounts of these elements. This project aims to find economically feasible solutions to enable harvesting those valuable elements from the oceans.

The efforts, thus far, resulted in developing antifouling membranes for water desalination, porous materials for lithium-ion batteries, and highly stable nano-porous coordination polymers. Those materials can potentially be adapted to develop filters that selectively capture elements such as lithium from seawater.

Exfoliated graphite is chemically stable in severe environments, and has many other desirable chemical and mechanical properties rendering it ideal for composite material applications that relate to thermal barrier and charge storage devices. In the recent years, it has received attention as a filler in composites due to the prominent properties it imparts to the host polymeric matrices.

This project aims to develop and construct a joint facility between KACST and an international partner for producing exfoliated graphite at low temperatures with a production capacity up to 1kg per hour. The project consists of the following phases: creating preliminary and detailed engineering designs, procuring and developing the required equipment, conducting production tests to model the relationship between the production conditions and various properties of exfoliated graphite, delivering the equipment to KACST campus, installing, commissioning and providing the required training to produce the final product as per the required properties, capacity and energy consumption limits.

The growth of polymers industry over the last two decades was fueled primarily by novel applications polymers made possible due to their low cost, high specificity and adaptability. Polymer products can be lightweight, hard, strong, and flexible, and can be designed to have special thermal, electrical, or optical characteristics.

Innovation is expected to drive future growth and continued economic prosperity in a polymer-based economy. The intent of this project therefore is to produce a variety of polymers for use in a wide range of applications. This projects consists of six subprojects: (1) development of post-metallocene catalyst, (2) development of advanced polymer composites for sensing applications, (3) preparation of polymers containing TiO2 pigments, (4) development of methods for noble-metal-free alkanes-oxidation to economically valuable fine-chemicals and polymers, 5) production and recycling of high quality graphene for energy storage applications.

This project aims to establish a pilot plant to produce Silicon with a capacity of 800tons per year as part of a strategic collaboration with the Saudi mining company (Ma’aden) located in Ras Al Khair city. This plant will be designed to convert industrial waste from Ma’aden‘s phosphate factories, which represents a challenge to the company, into high purity Silicon, then to wafers used in the manufacturing of solar cells. This project is expected to span a four years period and to consist of two phases:

Phase 1: Pure Silicon production from phosphate waste.

Phase 2: Production of sufficient quantity of Silicon wafers to generate 120MW of electricity.

In addition, the project includes the development of a bench scale laboratory at KACST to produce Silicon with a production capacity of 10 tons per year. This laboratory will be used to train KACST employees to run the pilot plant, and to plan ahead and be prepared for operations problems. Moreover, this laboratory will enable further research in this field and will enable the experimentation with alternative products that are cheaper to produce than Silicon.

The project aims to benefit from the transfer of SRI’s technology in Silicon production from the SiF4-Na reaction and utilize it in the manufacture of solar cells at KACST. The program is divided into two main phases. The first phase aims to transfer SRI’s technology, and laboratory experiments, whereas the second phase targets manufacturing. In the first phase, SRI will share the process of solar cell manufacturing. It will provide a detailed documentation of the chemical processes, the raw materials used in the manufacturing process, and the reactor used to conduct the chemical reaction. It will train KACST researchers on the technique of injecting the reactor with Sodium, and on the role of pressure and temperature control during this process. The main objective of this project is to transfer this technology to KACST, to apply it and to utilize it effectively. After the completion of the first phase, a group from KACST and SRI will develop a time plan and set targets as well as the estimated budget for the second phase. The second phase will involve the design and manufacturing of the pilot plant - to include a Sodium storage plant and reactor - and the process of separating the materials resulting from the reaction.

This project aims to obtain high quality GaAs thin films grown epitaxially on Silicon. This will help integrate optoelectronic applications to Silicon substrates. There are several major challenges that must be overcome. First, a very high density of dislocations are usually introduced at the interface stemming from the high lattice mismatch (4% for Si), which induces stress and cracking problems. These problems exacerbate by the large mismatch in the thermal expansion coefficients between Si and GaAs. Furthermore, as Si is a nonpolar semiconductor and GaAs is a polar semiconductor, the growth of GaAs on Si leads to high density antiphase domain formations.

The project concentrates primarily on the epitaxial growth and characterization of compound semiconductors, such as GaAs, on Silicon substrates. The objective of this project is to successfully realize high quality single-crystalline III-As epifilms on Silicon, yielding high performance and cost-effective light sources, such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), lasers, operating in the range of the important telecommunication wavelengths.

Renewable energy technologies, especially solar cells, are expected to dominate in the future and complement fossil fuel technologies. Currently, cost is the main challenge towards competitive energy production using solar cells. However, Perovskite solar cells are very attractive because of their high absorption properties and low cost.

The objective of this project is to develop solar cells with efficiency exceeding 20%. A detailed study of the optical, chemical and electrical properties shall be performed to understand how these cells operate, so that better solutions are explored in order to enhance the cell performance.

One of the most important features of these cells is their reliability and stability, which guarantees proper operation under normal conditions. The stability can be further improved by adding non-organic materials to the organic materials that constitute the Perovskite films.

Another target is to develop lead-free environmentally friendly Perovskite solar cells.

Carbon Nano-Tubes is chemically stable in severe environments, and has many other desirable chemical and mechanical properties rendering it ideal for composite material applications that relate to construction, petrochemical, military and aerospace industries.

This project aims to develop and construct a joint facility between KACST and an international partner for producing Carbon Nano-Tubes with a production capacity up to 1kg per hour. The project consists of the following phases: creating preliminary and detailed engineering designs, procuring and developing the required equipment, conducting production tests to model the relationship between the production conditions and various properties of Carbon Nano-Tubes, delivering the equipment to KACST campus, installing, commissioning and providing the required training to produce the final product as per the required properties, capacity and energy consumption limits.

This project is a collaboration between KACST and Clariant Inter Ltd Co. to develop and operate two identical pilot plants, one in the Riyadh area and one near Frankfurt, for developing and manufacturing of Carbon Fibers (CF). Manufacturing processes will include: polymerization of Acrylonitrile, spinning of Polyacrylonitrile yarn, carbonization and surface treatment.

Deliverables achieved in the first phase of this project include detailed technical and engineering plans that cover all manufacturing steps, equipment design, equipment manufacturing, and production of carbon fiber with properties that can serve industrial standard applications. In the second phase of this project, KACST and Clariant will work on developing and producing a high-performance carbon fiber.

The objective of this project is to develop and produce light metal matrix nanocomposite (MMC) bulks and coatings with high mechanical properties and ability in forming, machining and welding.

Aluminum alloy, Al5Mg, and titanium alloy, Ti6Al4V, will be selected as matrix, whilst the reinforcement choices will cover CNT, CF, and Al2O3 for Al5Mg and SiC, hydroxyapatite, Al2O3, and TiC for Ti6Al4V.

Powder metallurgy will be used to produce these nanocomposites. It is well-known that composites properties depend primarily on the characteristics (volume and size) and dispersion behavior of the second phase particles. Therefore, this project will concentrate on the reproducibility of the targeted composites. The targeted product is plates in shape, with a size in the range of 30cm x 30cm x 5cm. A detailed proposal covering this project has been submitted and is expected to be supported within the coming year (2018).

Metal matrix composites play major roles in material technologies that are related to numerous applications including energy, petrochemical, military, aerospace and aeronautics.

The objective of this project is to develop and produce a Polymer Matrix Composite (MMC) reinforced with carbon glass fibers. The light-weight potential and the mechanical properties such as the structural stability, the load and impact resistance, and the reduced deterioration have to be improved regarding the demands of industries such as the automotive, aerospace, and wind energy industries. A comprehensive materials characterization, understanding, and improvement of the fiber-matrix interaction are key issues to improve the mechanical properties. This indicates that a faster and more efficient choice of favorable materials combinations and a better transferability to other applications and new technological areas can be accomplished. This project will involve developing and producing different components used in aircrafts (e.g., stringer) and an Airtrike with CF reinforced thermoset matrix. This project consists of several steps including the definition of the specification of a component, selecting carbon fibers and resin monomers, developing and optimizing the interaction between carbon fibers and resins, optimizing the infusion process, and manufacturing the targeted component. A detailed proposal has been submitted and expected to be funded by 2018.

Ultra-High Temperature Materials (UHTM) are important for many applications ranging from spacecraft’s to nuclear reactor’s wall protection shields. These materials can sustain high temperatures ranging from 1000 to 3000°C with high chemical, mechanical and thermal stability. The importance of UHTM applications and their high demand drove an increase in research and development activities aiming to find competitive manufacture methods for UHTM.

The project aim is to create composite materials with high stability at UHT and deposit them on substrates such as graphite and Silicon wafers. Those materials maintain their chemical, mechanical and thermal properties, and maintain their shape without oxidation or corrosion under UHT conditions. In this project, cutting edge laboratory techniques are used to prepare materials such as Thermal Spray Coating and Photolithography, and to investigate their thermal and chemical properties. In addition, many types of materials such as polymers, metals and ceramics are used in order to achieve optimal results.

The project aims to design and prepare different kinds of metal pores for use in various industrial applications such as storage and production of clean energy, which is made possible by their distinctive properties compared to traditional materials. Storage of different types of gases is one of the promising applications for this technology. This makes the produced materials suitable for energy storage, clean energy production, and to capture and store greenhouse gases. Moreover, it has been found that there is a harmony between the optical, electronic, mechanical and chemical properties of Nano-particles, which makes them suitable for addressing a number of problems related to energy conversion.

The project studies the fundamental properties and applications of Nanocrystals, and in particular, the preparation of high quality Nanocrystals to be used in several applied fields. The physical, chemical, electrical and thermodynamic properties of those materials depend on the size and the crystalline form. This project, therefore, studies different methods for automatic and precise testing of the associated chemical and physical properties of Nano-particles.

This project aims to develop a high-resolution mass selection technique known as quadrupole mass filter. The apparatus is used to accumulate ions and cool them by collisions before being injected as packets into the electrostatic storage ring. The system consists of an ion source, a quadrupole mass filter, a special pulsed gate valve (aerodynamic chopper) and an Hexapole trap. This technique allows users to conduct experiments with large molecules used in medicine, medical diagnostics, and in atomic and molecular physics.

Due to the limitations of many current technologies in X-ray imaging, their usage has become restricted. For example, in order to obtain an image with a reasonable resolution, a high rate of X-ray flux must be used. On the other hand, a gas electron multiplier (GEM) detector, which is a branch of micro pattern detectors technology, is one of the promising tools in this area. It allows for high spatial resolution; up to 50micro meter. Hence, the goal of this project is to design and build a GEM system for medical imaging applications.

Superconductors are special materials that conduct electricity with zero Ohm resistance at very low temperatures, and thus has the potential to generate higher uniform magnetic field than that generated by the conventional permanent magnets.

There are various sustainable-engineering-applications applicable in Saudi Arabia, e.g., reducing the cost of connecting electrical generators, since superconductors can replace the conventional parts of the generators.

In this project, superconductors are grown by infiltration rather than melting to have more control over the physical properties of the fabricated superconductors. This approach has overcome the main disadvantages of melting fabrication; namely, the presence of porosity and shrinkage on the fabricated bulk superconductors. This project aims to develop two superconductor materials, YBCO and MgB2, each having unique properties such as weight, trapped field capability and configurability. In addition, the last stage of the project aims to use those superconductors to design and build a magnetic separator.

In this project, theoretical and experimental methods are combined to develop advanced materials along with their applications. Gas-based sensors became global and domestic research targets due to the broadening of their applications in industry, environment and health.

The aim is to manufacture and develop gas sensors utilizing spin degrees of freedom using spin transistors. By controlling the spin in these materials, the expected applications can be expanded to include quantum computing and quantum information.

The other part of the study focuses on simulation and modeling techniques to improve material properties. Materials modeling using density functional theory (DFT) is possible because of the rapid advances in computers and simulation software. The strategy is to use DFT to develop materials for various applications such as solar cells, spintronics and gas sensing.

Accurate description of materials based on the theatrical studies can be used to infer appropriate models matching experimental results, which saves time and effort and reduces the cost substantially.

The project aims to produce photo-electrochemical catalysts and use them to develop semiconductor electrodes to split water using solar radiation in the visible range. These electrodes would then be used to develop electrochemical cells to produce clean hydrogen gas from renewable energy sources.

The first phase is aiming to improve the efficiency of water splitting using a novel photocatalyst, which consists of gold nanoparticles impregnated on a titanium oxide nanotube in the visible range. This approach is expected to markedly improve water splitting efficiency on the surface of the catalyst.

The second phase is to fabricate electrochemical electrodes containing titanium oxide nanotube on a conductive surface through a bottom-up approach. The project aims to produce these electrodes using Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) and Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). Electrochemical measurements will be used to examine the efficiency of the photocatalyst in the presence of visible light. The last stage is to design separation cells, considering all related engineering and technology aspects. The success of this project will enable the connection of those cells with other energy sources.

The principal aim of the Quantum Well Laser project is to train Saudi engineers to fabricate Quantum Well Lasers in local laboratories using the Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) growth technique.

The MBE reactor uses high purity III-V materials to fabricate lasers, LEDs, sensors, solar cells, oxide thin films and etc. for real world applications.

The project involves equipping the Saudi engineers with the principles used in selecting laser wavelength, selecting the proper materials, and training them on the design, growing, and fabrication of laser devices. Some of the already achieved outcomes of this project include the fabrication of 630nm (red laser) laser devices by Saudi engineers in a laboratory at the Nottingham University, and the design of electronic circuits necessary to operate the laser at KACST.