Ceramic foam is a tough foam made from ceramics. Manufacturing techniques include impregnating open-cell polymer foams internally with ceramic slurry and then firing in a kiln, leaving only ceramic material. The foams may consist of several ceramic materials such as aluminium oxide, a common high-temperature ceramic, and gets insulating properties from the many tiny air-filled voids within the material.
The foam can be used not only for thermal insulation, but for a variety of other applications such as acoustic insulation, absorption of environmental pollutants, filtration of molten metal alloys, and as substrate for catalysts requiring large internal surface area.
It has been used as stiff lightweight structural material, specifically for support of reflecting telescope mirrors.
Ceramic foams are hardened ceramics with pockets of air or another gas trapped in pores throughout the body of the material. These materials can be fabricated as high as 94 to 96% air by volume with temperature resistances as high as 1700 °C. Because many ceramics are already oxides or other inert compounds, there is little danger of oxidation or reduction of the material.
Previously, pores had been avoided in ceramic components due to their brittle properties. However, in practice ceramic foams have somewhat advantageous mechanical properties compared to bulk ceramics. One example is crack propagation, given by:
where σt is the stress at the tip of the crack, σ is the applied stress, a is the crack size and r is the radius of curvature. For certain stress applications, this means ceramic foams actually outperform bulk ceramics because the porous pockets of air act to blunt the crack tip radius, leading to a disruption of its propagation and a decrease in the likelihood of failure.
Much like metal foams, there are a number of accepted methods for creating ceramic foams. One of the earliest and still most common is the polymeric sponge method. A polymeric sponge is covered with a ceramic in suspension, and after rolling to ensure all pores have been filled, the ceramic-coated sponge is dried and pyrolysed to decompose the polymer, leaving only the porous ceramic structure. The foam must then be sintered for final densification. This method is widely used because it is effective with any ceramic able to be suspended; however, large amounts of gaseous byproducts are released and cracking due to differences in thermal expansion coefficients are common.
While the above are both based on the use of a sacrificial template, there are also direct foaming methods that can be used. These methods involve pumping air into a suspended ceramic before setting and sintering. This is difficult because wet foams are thermodynamically unstable and can end up with very large pores after setting.
A recent method of creating aluminum oxide foams has also been developed. This technique involves heating crystals with the metal and forming compounds until a solution is created. At this point, polymer chains form and grow, causing the entire mixture to separate into a solvent and polymer. As the mixture begins to boil, air bubbles are trapped in solution and locked in to place as the material is heated and polymer is burned off.
Due to ceramics' extremely low thermal conductivity, the most obvious use of a ceramic is as an insulation material. Ceramic foams are notable in this regard because their composition by very common compounds, such as aluminum oxide, makes them completely harmless, unlike asbestos and other ceramic fibers. Their high strength and hardness also allows them to be used as structural materials for low stress applications.
With easily controlled porosities and microstructures, ceramic foams have seem growing use in evolving electronics applications. These applications include electrodes, and scaffolds for solid oxide fuel cells and batteries. Foams can also be used as cooling components for electronics by separating a pumped coolant from the circuits themselves. For this application, silica, aluminum oxide, and aluminum borosilicate fibers can be used.
Ceramic foams have been proposed as a means of pollutant control, particularly for particulate matter from engines. They are effective because the voids can capture particulates as well as support a catalyst that can induce oxidation of the captured particulates. Due to the easy means of deposition of other materials within ceramic foams, these oxidation-inducing catalysts can easily be distributed through the entire foam, increasing effectiveness.
- "Novel Ceramic Foam Is Safe And Effective Insulation". Science Daily. May 18, 2001. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
- "Ceramic Foam Insulation - Industrial Ceramics". www.induceramic.com. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
- Studart, André R; Gonzenbach, Urs T.; Tervoort, Elena; Gauckler, Ludwig J. (2006). "Processing routes to macroporous ceramics: a review". J Am Ceram Soc. 89 (6): 1771–1789. doi:10.1111/j.1551-2916.2006.01044.x.
- Tallon, Carolina; Chuanuwatanakul, Chayuda; Dunstan, David E.; Franks, George V. "Mechanical strength and damage tolerance of highly porous alumina ceramics produced from sintered particle stabilized foams". Ceramics International. 42 (7): 8478–8487. doi:10.1016/j.ceramint.2016.02.069.
- K. Schwartzwalder and A. V. Somers, Method of Making Porous Ceramic Articles, US Pat. No. 3090094, May 21, 1963
- W. Behrens, A. Tucker. Ceramic foam electronic component cooling. US Pat No 20070247808 A1. October 25, 2007.
- P. Ciambelli, G. Matarazzo, V. Palma , P. Russo , E. Merlone Borla, and M. F. Pidria. Reduction of soot pollution from automotive diesel engine by ceramic foam catalytic filter. Topics in Ceramics, 42-43. May 2007.